This is the second of two winning papers from the Policy Hackathon event hosted by our European Affairs and Defence & Diplomacy Policy Centres on 17 October 2019. It was co-written over the course of fifty minutes by a team of students (see below), and edited by our Head Editors for publication on the blog.
The border between the United States and Mexico is undergoing a crisis of illegal crossings. While the overall number of migrants has decreased since the early 2000s, the current level still poses a significant threat to the national security of the United States. In the 2019 fiscal year alone, per the US Borders and Customs Protection, there have been 851,508 apprehensions at the US southern border. It is the US Department of Homeland Security’s duty to address this issue.
This crisis stems not only from Mexico, but also from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Therefore, to address this issue, we must consider both short and long term approaches. We are not recognizing the cosmopolitan right to free access (and therefore are categorically opposed to further opening the borders), but we do recognize the importance of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Consequently, migrants and asylum seekers must be allowed entry and respectful treatment.
Short Term Solutions
The most recent border policy, in which the United States increased troop presence on its southern border in cooperation with Mexico, expired on 6 September 2019. This policy resulted in a 30% overall drop in apprehensions at the border. The current proposed policy of a border wall constitutes an inefficient use of federal money; rather, patrol presence on the southern border should continue to be strengthened to disincentivise crossing.
In addition to this, detention center conditions must be drastically improved in order to ensure an acceptable quality of life. Recently, American border security has come under heavy international and domestic scrutiny due to its inhumane treatment of detained migrants. Many children have reportedly died while in Border Patrol centers. While detention centres should remain operational in order to maintain border security, significant improvements to their conditions must be made in line with international human rights law. Possible improvements include the development of detainment centre infrastructure, an increase in onsite medical professionals, and inclusion of workers fluent in Central American languages in order to sustain clear communication with detainees, especially in times of emergency. Additionally, immigration court proceedings need to be expedited, as slow proceedings result in overcrowding at detention centres, exacerbating the poor conditions. Providing detainees with access to free legal counsel to present and support their cases may aid in streamlining the immigration process.
Long Term Solutions
While the short-term policies suggested above are important, long term policy is the most crucial in formulating a lasting solution to this issue. Firstly, the United States should negotiate with Mexico, so that the latter declares itself a ‘third safe country’. This shift in Mexico’s status would allow migrants to request asylum there, rather than in the US. Mexico is currently opposed to accepting this status, but its position would likely change with US economic aid. According to Amnesty International, the Mexican asylum system is grossly underfunded, rendering it unable to distinguish and classify different asylum claims; this is likely the main issue preventing the Mexican government from accepting a change in status. Strengthening the Mexican asylum system is therefore imperative, and the US may aid in this by reducing tariffs and increasing foreign aid.
Additionally, the US could deploy specialists to help the Mexican government create refugee centers and checkpoints. The two countries could subsequently work to adopt an agreement for the re-distribution of migrants that would prompt the Mexican government to accept a certain number of migrants every year, perhaps utilising the framework of the already existing re-distribution agreement between the US and Canada. The United States should also increase foreign aid to Central American countries to combat the root issues, particularly organized crime, that compel people to flee in the first place. These long and short term policies will address the crisis at the US-Mexico Border.
Adrian Lavroushin Clark, Rebecca Visser, Moshka Mehta, Jaromir Chroustovsky, and Manfredi Pozzoli