TREND: After a short decline in apprehension levels in 2020 mostly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mexico’s migration enforcement levels increased sharply through April 2021, closely tracking levels witnessed in 2019. The composition of migrants who are detained and returned by Mexican authorities appears to be starting to change, and preliminary data suggest that migrant apprehensions continued to rising in May 2021, likely surpassing 2019 levels.
- From January through April 2021, Mexican authorities apprehended 57,000 migrants – a 69 percent increase compared to the same period of 2020. Following similar trends of recent years, four of every five migrants apprehended were men.
- Central Americans continue to represent the largest percentage of migrant apprehensions. Of the 57,000 migrants detained by Mexican authorities in 2021, 94 percent were from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Migrants from Nicaragua and Cuba were the fourth and fifth largest populations apprehended.
- Most migrant apprehensions continue take place along Mexico’s borders. About 30 percent occurred in the southern state of Chiapas; states along the Mexico-Guatemala border combined accounted for 40 percent of all apprehensions. Over one third (36 percent) of all migrant apprehensions occurred in states along the U.S-Mexico border.
- Slightly fewer migrant children are being apprehended by immigration authorities. Fourteen percent of migrants apprehended by Mexican authorities were children in the first four months of 2021, compared to 16 percent in 2020.
- With the increase in apprehensions, migrant returns also increased during the first four months of 2021. Mexican authorities have returned 31,000 migrants in 2021 compared to 27,000 over the same period in 2020, representing an increase of 17 percent.
- Children represented five percent of the 31,000 returns conducted by Mexican authorities from January through April 2021, as compared to 14 percent of the 27,000 returns authorities conducted in the same period of 2020.
- Nearly three of every five migrants returned by Mexican authorities were from Honduras, a continuing trend over the last few years. Notably, there were virtually no migrant returns to Africa.
TAKEAWAY: The Mexican government has heightened its enforcement during periods of high migration flows to reduce the arrival and transit of irregular migration through the country. At 31,000 migrant apprehensions, the previous peak in Mexico’s enforcement is June 2019, also the month Mexico and the United States signed a cooperation agreement. Yet it is possible that apprehensions in May 2021 will set a new monthly record if the ongoing enforcement levels continue. As Mexico rethinks its role on regional migration management, it will be necessary to consider the resource implications for conducting enforcement, the sustainability of these efforts, and the need to develop alternative approaches to manage migration.
* Spotlight by Ariel Ruiz Soto, Policy Analyst, Andrea Tanco, Associate Policy Analyst, and Jaret Waters, Research Intern at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI). MPI seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis, opportunities for learning and dialogue, and the development of new ideas to address complex policy questions. Twitter: @migrationpolicy