Before the election certification was catastrophically but predictably disrupted in Capitol Hill, President-elect Biden’s transition team and Mexico’s Foreign Ministry announced National Security Advisor-designate Jake Sullivan and Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard had a telephone conversation “in preparation for cooperation between the two countries”.
The press release from Biden’s camp is notorious for its brevity. In contrast, the press release published by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry not only mentions migration as one of the central issues of the bilateral relationship but provides keys as to what we can expect in the coming years. For those of us who have opposed the involvement of Mexico’s National Guard on migration policy, the outlook is vexing.
According to the Mexican press release, the dialogue emphasized the “shared vision on migration” and the need to “design a joint regional strategy in order to ensure orderly, safe, and regular migration flows”. Notably, Biden’s press release discusses “safe, orderly, and humane migration” (emphasis added). In the current stage of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, stressing bilateral work is hardly a foregone conclusion and very much a welcome message. However, while it is possible Sullivan and Ebrard discussed other topics, the public focus on migration raises at least three points:
- Mexico’s Foreign Ministry continues to consolidate its front and center role on migration policy vis-à-vis international actors. While this used to be an area or responsibility mostly under the Secretariat of Interior (SEGOB), the appointment of key cabinet members like Luis Videgaray during the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018) and Marcelo Ebrard have shifted this issue area to the Foreign Ministry. Less clear, however, is how the Foreign Ministry and SEGOB will cope with the inevitable coordination problems that will arise among agencies like the National Institute for Migration and Mexico’s refugee agency (COMAR) that operate under the Secretariat of Interior. Coordination challenges while a reality of bureaucracies can also undermine the vision and negate the implementation of a joint regional strategy.
- If the U.S. and Mexico design and implement a joint regional migration strategy, it raises questions about potential training by U.S. armed forces or law enforcement agencies to the Mexican National Guard as it has occurred with Mexican armed forces in the context of the Merida Initiative. The Guard has already been involved in stopping migrant flows from Central America to Mexico’s northern border. Scholars, activists, and civil society organizations have opposed this move citing human rights violations and a criminal rather than humanitarian approach. However, if a joint strategy were to exist, what kind of interactions would that create between the National Guard and U.S. agencies? Could this help advance questions about mutually accepted vetting mechanisms? Furthermore, would the training have provisions related to the protection of Human Rights? And if so, how would the Mexican government publicly reconcile them while also touting its principle of non-intervention?
- The press release published by the Mexican government seemingly discusses migration and refugees as people coming from outside the Mexican territory and an issue that needs to be addressed, from an economic development perspective with Central American countries. This stand neglects the 350,000 internally displaced people within the country that have left their homes because of violence. To this tragedy we also need to add the millions of Mexicans who lost their job or whose income was reduced as a result of the pandemic. While not all of them will seek asylum in the United States, it raises important questions as to how the Mexican government will manage the movement of its citizens (as opposed to caravans from Central America) who constitutionally have the right to travel to the northern border. More importantly, could a joint migration strategy be doomed from the beginning by ignoring the recently unemployed and internally displaced Mexicans?
* Cecilia Farfán Méndez is head of Security Research Programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Twitter: @farfan_cc