In recent weeks, the Attorney General of our neighboring state of Texas sued the Biden administration for his decision to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy that forced thousands of Central American asylum seekers to wait in my country while their petitions were being processed.
When this policy was instituted under President Donald Trump, aided by Mexican President Andrés Manual López Obrador, my state of Chihuahua, which shares a more than 500-mile international boundary with the United States, suddenly had to spend millions in unbudgeted financial resources to accommodate scores of migrants in improvised camps along the border and to fight the criminal element of those preying on them.
Despite the unfortunate headlines constantly generated by the international criminal organisations using our state as a staging point to meet the insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States and increasingly in Mexico, Chihuahua is a state known for its hard-working people and its resilient communities. We are used to migrant flows, both from the Mexican interior, drawn to job opportunities in our booming maquiladora industry and those headed to the United States searching for the so-called “American Dream.”
We understand their plight and are just as moved by the images of drowned children and separated families as anyone with a shred of humanity would be. But we also have our citizens to take care of, especially during a pandemic that has crippled our economy and created unprecedented levels of unemployment. As a border state, we share Texas’ struggle to handle a crisis of wartime dimensions with resources that were meant to take care of our own population.
The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) known as “Remain in Mexico” is a policy initiated by the Trump administration in 2018 that outlines procedures which allow the US government to return asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait while their cases are pending in the US immigration court system. This policy shares similarities with the Australian offshore detention scheme by which refugees and asylum seekers are sent to detention centers in nearby islands during while their claims are being processed.
Remain in Mexico has resulted in the shanty camps along the border that we’ve all seen online and on television. Rather than giving immigrants hope and a respite from the conditions of poverty and violence that they were fleeing in the first place, this policy has made them more vulnerable to being preyed on and abused by criminals within and outside the encampments, not to mention the spread of disease, including COVID-19 that inevitably occurs in an environment of confinement and squalor.
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I do not agree, however, that reinstating the Remain in Mexico policy under the Biden Administration is the right approach to ending the northward migrant flow to the United States, as the current economic and public safety conditions in Central America will continue to drive migrants up north – with the added incentive of a long-established diaspora eager for family reunification – and America’s ongoing demand for low-wage labor remaining a gravitational force reaching far into the central and southern reaches of the Americas.
Much is said about the “root causes” of Central American migration, with the main one conveniently left out: politics. Immigration has become a permanent “crisis” that no one appears eager to solve. US politicians on both sides of the aisle draw from the immigration well every election cycle to mobilise their bases, and President López Obrador seems to have learned from Trump to use it as a lucrative foreign policy bargaining chip, whether for obtaining vaccine doses or turning a casual blind eye to free trade violations.
Although according to its constitution Mexico is organised as a federation of sovereign states, in reality our fiscal policy has evolved around taxes – such as income, corporate and federal taxes – collected by the federal government, which are then redistributed among states and municipalities. This system has undermined local government autonomy and subjected governors and mayors to walking the line dictated by Mexico City or else face budgetary starvation.
As the former two-term mayor of the border-state capital city of Chihuahua, I have experience balancing budgets and running successful public safety programmes, not an easy task with our share of federal distributions. But I also have experience fending off central government bullies trying to muscle local leaders into doing their bidding or facing political retribution.
I am currently running for Governor of Chihuahua and should I win the election in June and Texas prevails in its lawsuit, I too will take action against my federal government to oppose “Remain-in Mexico” – just like Texas and for similar reasons. It is time for state and provincial leaders to say enough is enough. Our state budgets and our taxpayers can no longer afford, and should no longer enable, an immigration political racket that mainly benefits the status quo in Washington DC and Mexico City.
Maria Eugenia Campos Galván is the former Mayor of Chihuahua City and a candidate for Governor of the State of Chihuahua. The elections in Mexico are on the 6 June.