Biden policies stir Mexican concerns over new boom for cartels

Mexico is worried that support for victims of violence and suspension of Trump-era policies is encouraging migrants.

Migrants being escorted by a Texas state trooper after they crossed the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico on a raft in Penitas, Texas [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

Mexico’s government is worried that the new United States administration’s asylum policies are stoking irregular migration and creating business for organised crime, Reuters reported, citing officials and internal assessments.

Ever since US President Joe Biden won the White House vowing to undo the hardline approach of his predecessor Donald Trump, Mexico has both looked forward to an end to migration burdens imposed by Trump, and braced for a new influx of people.

Detentions on the US border have surged since Biden took office on January 20. Mexico has urged Washington to help stem the flow by providing development aid to Central America, from where most migrants come, driven by a humanitarian crisis.

“They see him as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said of Biden the morning after a virtual meeting with his US counterpart on March 1.

“We need to work together to regulate the flow, because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.”

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has urged Washington to help stem the flow by providing development aid to Central America, from where most migrants come, driven by a humanitarian crisis [File: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo]

Previously unreported details in the internal assessments, based on testimonies and intelligence gathering, state that gangs are diversifying methods of smuggling and winning clients as they eye US measures that will “incentivise migration”.

Apprehensions on the US-Mexico border in February hit levels unseen since mid-2019, and were the highest for that month in 15 years, data reported by Reuters showed.

Among US steps that Mexico worries are encouraging migration are improved support for victims of gangs and violence, streamlining of the legalisation process, and suspension of Trump-era accords that deported people to Central America.

Recent Mexican policies are also encouraging migration, according to one assessment. It saw potential fillips in measures such as offering COVID-19 vaccines to migrants, as well as better protections for undocumented children.

One Mexican official familiar with migration developments, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said organised crime began changing its modus operandi “from the day Biden took office” and now exhibited “unprecedented” levels of sophistication.

That includes briefing clients on the latest immigration rules, using technology to outfox authorities, and disguising smuggling operations as travel agencies, assessments showed.

“Migrants have become a commodity,” the official said, arguing they were now as valuable as drugs for the gangs. “But if a packet of drugs is lost in the sea, it’s gone. If migrants are lost, it’s human beings we’re talking about.”

Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a supporter of former US President Donald Trump, blasted the Biden administration’s border policies, saying they were encouraging migrants to attempt to cross into the US irregularly [File: Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, on Tuesday said that overwhelming the US-Mexico borders with migrants, including unaccompanied children, is part of the cartels’ strategy, which would allow them to smuggle even more people into the

“Because of the volume of people coming across, the border patrol that makes the arrest, they have to engage in quite literally, in babysitting,” Abbott said in a news conference.

“And while they’re doing babysitting, that provides an opportunity for the cartels to be able to bring other people across the border illegally,” he said.

“This is actually part of the cartel strategy.”

Higher concentrations of migrants in border areas have encouraged gangs to recruit some as drug mules, and kidnap others for money, said Cesar Peniche, attorney general of Chihuahua, the state with the longest stretch of US border.

Both Mexican and US policy should be more clear-cut so as not to spur illegal immigration, he told Reuters.

An unaccompanied minor seeking asylum is being transported in a US Border Patrol vehicle after crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States from Mexico on a raft in Penitas, Texas [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

Mexico has praised Biden for offering a pathway to citizenship to millions of US residents of Mexican origin, and for rolling back Trump-era policies that sent US asylum seekers back into Mexico to await their court hearings.

To avoid detection, migrants now often travel in small groups instead of caravans, and increasingly follow more dangerous, less well-trodden routes, Peniche said.

Communicating via social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube, smugglers update migrants on impending checkpoints, when freight trains they can jump on pass, where to stay and how to navigate immigration laws, the Mexican official added.

To ease their passage, smugglers advise Central American clients to register complaints with authorities saying they have been victims of extortion or, for young men, that they have faced death threats from street gangs, the assessments show.

And, as in previous years, migrants are being told to bring along children to make it easier to apply for asylum.

Mexican intelligence shows smugglers’ transit costs vary widely. One assessment said an unaccompanied Central American minor could secure passage to the US border for about $3,250. By contrast, for African travellers, the rate was $20,000. Asians must also pay more.

One evaluation set out concerns there could be a significant influx in migrants from outside the region – the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the Middle East – as coronavirus-led border restrictions begin easing.

Even as Mexicans hail Biden’s cancellation of work on Trump’s border wall, some officials say it is time Mexico returns to an idea the government raised in 2019: improving the infrastructure along its own southern border with Guatemala.

“Mexico spends more on every new wave of migrants than that would cost,” said another official. “We have to do it.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters