Migrants are sewing their lips shut to protest the policy that stranded them in Mexico

“Facing pressure to find ways to limit the number of migrants requesting entry to the United States, Mexican immigration authorities will not permit the migrants to leave the city unless they have some form of legal immigration status allowing them to move freely through the country, such as asylum. Hundreds tried to escape last month, but were intercepted and detained by Mexican immigration authorities.

Many of Tapachula’s migrants have already applied for legal status so that they can travel north to the US border. Mexican immigration authorities are supposed to process those applications within 90 business days. But some migrants have been waiting for more than a year due to a surge in applications that has led to backlogs. In 2021, nearly 90,000 people applied for asylum in Tapachula, more than triple the number who did so the year before. Applications from vulnerable groups — including children, pregnant people, victims of crimes, people with disabilities, older adults, and their immediate family members — are currently being prioritized.”

“Migrants are being kept from entering the US under a pandemic-related border restriction first implemented by the Trump administration, known as the Title 42 policy, which allows the federal government to bar noncitizens from entering the US for health reasons. Although public health experts have said Title 42 doesn’t help to stop the spread of Covid-19, the Biden administration has embraced it. That has allowed the Biden administration to carry out 1.1 million expulsions to Mexico in the past year, including to the state of Chiapas, where Tapachula is located.

In 2019, the Mexican government agreed to ramp up immigration enforcement on its southern border in order to avert US tariffs Trump had threatened. Though the Biden administration hasn’t continued to threaten those tariffs, it has dangled carrots of vaccine doses and development funds in exchange for Mexico’s cooperation on limiting migration to the US border.

The effect of those policies has been to keep migrants away from US borders and out of mind for most Americans. And it’s been largely successful in silencing migrants unless they go to extreme lengths to be heard.”

“But the kind of care provided to migrants in Tapachula isn’t adequate. The city simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to support a sudden influx of people. For months, some 3,000 migrants were living at a campsite at Tapachula’s Olympic Stadium, where they had no access to clean water, food, health care, and other basic services, and shared only a few portable toilets.

That camp was disbanded in December, but there still isn’t enough affordable housing and room in local shelters to support the migrant population and it’s not clear whether or when the Mexican government will build more shelters. Many are sleeping on the streets near INM’s local offices and don’t have work permits, meaning that they can’t secure stable employment that would allow them to support themselves while they wait. And they have reported being mistreated, arrested in violent and arbitrary manners, and robbed of their money and their phones by Mexican authorities.

Though Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard has promised to reduce wait times by streamlining the bureaucracy around the asylum process, he has also acknowledged that the government simply doesn’t have the staffing and resources to meet the explosion in need.

The US could share the load by resuming processing of migrants at its own borders and allowing them to pursue claims to humanitarian protection, as is their legal right. Instead, it has offloaded its immigration responsibilities onto its neighbor.”

The war on drugs puts a target on China

“The bulk of the illegal synthetic opioids that reach the U.S. are sourced in China by Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. They buy from legitimate and illicit Chinese suppliers through “purchases made on the open market, smuggling chemicals hidden in legitimate commercial shipments,” the 2020 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment noted.

Successful bilateral cooperation in combating the fentanyl flow peaked in May 2019 when Xi responded to U.S. pressure by making all forms of fentanyl subject to production controls and anti-trafficking measures. That prompted a drastic reduction in direct shipments of fentanyl and related compounds from China.

But Mexican cartels and their Chinese suppliers quickly pivoted to the export and processing of unregulated chemicals that can be processed into synthetic opioids. The Chinese government moved to block that trade in June by adding six fentanyl precursor chemicals to the list of substances requiring government approval. Chinese suppliers responded by marketing the unregulated raw materials for precursors.

“Drug trafficking organizations adapted to the PRC’s [regulatory controls] of all fentanyl-related substances, and now appear to have increased the purchase of fentanyl precursors from the PRC to manufacture fentanyl in Mexico, indicating a pronounced shift in how fentanyl is trafficked into the United States,” a State Department spokesperson told POLITICO.

The response from Chinese chemical producers and exporters underscores the challenges of regulatory fixes that don’t keep up with the ability of the industry to skirt those laws.

“[Chinese suppliers] are acting like water, they’re just finding the gaps and cracks in the law,” said Bryce Pardo, drug policy researcher at RAND Corp. “They have gone on to [synthetic opioid component chemicals] that are used in all sorts of other medications and other commercial applications that can never be controlled because it would be way too burdensome for industry and genuine consumption purposes to control these other kinds of chemicals.”

On the Hill, China’s role as a drug chemical supplier for illicit synthetic opioids has become a political lightning rod, particularly for lawmakers from states such as Ohio that are suffering soaring increases in synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths.”

Biden’s immigration polices have left Haitians stranded in Mexico

“Thousands of Haitians are indefinitely trapped in Mexico. They face pervasive racism, and many are unable to work, have no access to medical care, and are targets for criminals. Most have arrived in the last year, hoping that the Biden presidency would open up an opportunity for them to finally seek protection in the US.

Those hopes were in vain. Now, Mexico is seeing a sharp uptick in Haitian asylum applicants — a surge it is unequipped to manage — all because the United States has offloaded its immigration responsibilities onto its neighbor.

The Biden administration continues to enforce pandemic-related border restrictions that have kept out the vast majority of asylum seekers, including Haitians; it’s deported nearly 14,000 Haitians since September 2021 despite their country’s political and economic crises. As a result, many Haitians face a difficult choice: Try to cross the US border and risk getting deported to Haiti if caught, or attempt to make a life for themselves in Mexico, at least temporarily.”

“President Joe Biden did allow more than 100,000 Haitians already living in the US before July 29, 2021, to apply for Temporary Protected Status, which allows them to live and work in the US on a temporary basis. But he has largely pursued a strategy of deterrence and exclusion with respect to Haitian migrants outside US borders, despite the fact that their country is still reeling from President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination and the one-two punch of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a tropical storm last summer.”

“The US could have made other choices that would have eased the burden on Mexico. For example, the Biden administration could have expanded TPS for Haitians or allowed them to enter the US temporarily on what’s called “parole,” a kind of temporary protection from deportation. It could have ended its deportation flights to Haiti and its restrictive border policies, or at least created broader exemptions to them. Instead, it has dumped its responsibilities to Haitians onto Mexico, which is ill-equipped to give them the kind of support they need.”

Mexico’s ‘Junk Food’ Warning Labels Are Junk

“Mexico’s controversial, year-old, mandatory, front-of-package food warning label law was supposed to help Mexicans make healthier food choices and slash sky-high obesity rates in the country.

The law, which took effect one year ago this week, “requires black informational octagons to be placed on packaged foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, sodium[,] or calories.” Other requirements include that any food which must bear the dreaded black octagon “cannot include children’s characters, animations, cartoons, or images of celebrities, athletes[,] or pets on their packaging.”

Many food producers inside and outside Mexico opposed the labeling law, arguing it’s misleading, burdensome, and paternalistic. The Mexican government, though, claimed the law would lead Mexicans to eat 37 fewer calories per day, which would theoretically result in an average Mexican losing nearly four pounds per year. Some outside Mexico supported the labeling scheme, too. Last year, for example, a World Health Organization (WHO) regional office gushed over the black octagons and gave the Mexican government an award, calling the labels a “public health innovation” that is the “most advanced and comprehensive regulation worldwide.”

But early returns suggest the law’s impact has been negligible at best.

“More than a year after Mexico’s food warning label law took effect, sales of junk food and sugary beverages have not declined significantly, according to a market research firm and a business group,” Mexico News Daily reported last week. “In fact, sales of unhealthy products have increased in some cases, data shows.”

That’s the conclusion of a Mexico-based market research group, Kantar México, which tracks food purchases made by thousands of Mexican households each week. Mexico News Daily also notes that a Mexican government agency says purchases of treats such as candy, chocolates, and soda were higher this past September than they were in September 2020—the same month the WHO rewarded the Mexican government for its purportedly innovative efforts.

Despite the fact the law’s not working as advocates hoped and claimed it would, last week’s Mexico News Daily report notes a Mexican government official praised the labeling scheme as a success because “[c]onsumers are now more informed and empowered to make better choices.””

‘A $10-Million Scarecrow’: The Quest for the Perfect ‘Smart Wall’

“There was a time when Mexican vendors sold water jugs with a map glued to the side. The map displayed various mountain peaks, and migrants were directed to follow the promontories to highways where they would be picked up. Towers made that impossible. A 10-mile journey became a 20-mile march, and migrants increasingly relied on smugglers to guide them through arroyos, along mountainsides, weaving a path beyond sight of the towers. This is what Boyce and Chambers have termed CBP’s “corral apparatus,” an intentional strategy to funnel migrants into “a narrower corridor of movement” where they’re more likely to become isolated, confused, and where “physiological strain, suffering and mortality are likely to be greatest.” The very point of the surveillance tower placement, they contend, was to increase the difficulty of the journey.
“An initial strategy was to channel people into certain areas, to funnel them to a place where it’s easier to apprehend them,” James Lewis, who had advised on SBInet, told me. “That’s not good from a crosser perspective because they’re forced into more inhospitable areas, and the casualty rate goes up.”

This corralling has an official name, it’s called “prevention through deterrence.” The Clinton administration devised this strategy and CBP still practices it today — consciously or not. During the program’s first stages, in the mid-1990s, the U.S. raised walls near border cities with the intent to push migrants into the desert. Metrics like “a shift in flow” of migratory routes and “fee increase by smugglers” were signs of effectiveness. And deaths were an expected outcome. “Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border,” the policy said, will “find themselves in mortal danger.” The government likely figured this would be an added deterrent, as stories of dead fathers and siblings filtered back through migrant networks. That is not what happened. Instead, as people left broken economies and rampant violence for the U.S., the death toll along the border soared and still the migrants came.”

Biden is pushing to end “Remain in Mexico.” But he may still have to enforce it.

“The memo argues that the policy, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” caused more harm than good, particularly in terms of its humanitarian impact.

“I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in the four-page memo announcing the policy shift. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”

That determination is in line with Biden’s campaign promises on immigration, which included reversing policies like Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy that resulted in family separations. It’s at odds, however, with the administration’s continuing reluctance to completely do away with other Trump-era legacies like Title 42, the immigration order that has allowed for the deportation of migrants as a public health measure during the pandemic.

And even though Biden began rolling back the MPP soon after taking office in January, his administration has had to prepare to re-implement the program in recent weeks in order to comply with a previous court order — even as it’s actively fighting to end the policy for good.”

“A 39-page justification published along with the memo outlines in further detail the conditions migrants faced in detention in Mexico, including the risk of sexual assault and kidnapping in the encampments where they stayed, as well as unsanitary and unstable housing conditions, limited access to health care and legal counsel, and insufficient food while they waited for the US to make a decision about their asylum hearings.

The right to seek asylum is protected under international law, and has been since the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948.”

“Ultimately, the Biden administration argues the policy has far too many issues for it to be salvaged: Not only does it require significant resources that could be directed elsewhere, according to the DHS memo, but MPP also failed to achieve reduction in crimes like human trafficking and drug smuggling, put people in serious danger, and doesn’t address the root causes that lead to people seeking asylum.

Additionally, the memo says, any program fixes would require the cooperation of Mexico and further diplomatic negotiations — time and energy that could be better spent on other issues. And other strict immigration policies were enacted at the same time as MPP, making it difficult to assess any deterrent effect the policy may have achieved.”