Over the past few weeks, the U.S. government has gone into crisis mode in an attempt to stop the flow of migrants attempting to cross the country’s southern border illegally or to apply for asylum at border ports. The Department of Justice declared a “zero tolerance” policy that would subject anyone caught crossing the border between ports of entry to criminal prosecution, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began separating children from their parents so that the latter could quickly go into criminal proceedings. After considerable public outcry, President Donald Trump ultimately suspended family separation in favor of a dubious plan of family detention, but he has continued to speak and tweet repeatedly about what he considers to be a border that is out of control.
What makes this sudden attention to the border so unusual is that there are now fewer people trying to cross illegally than at any time since the early 1970s, for two reasons. Not only has Mexico ceased to be the source of most migrants trying to cross the border but it has become a largely effective buffer against the newest migration flows from Central America.
With the election of the left-of-center nationalist Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the Mexican presidency, however, the status quo could soon change. López Obrador has made it clear that he does not want Mexican immigration policies to be merely an extension of U.S. enforcement policies, and continuing the current Trump administration practice of simply berating the Mexican government to do more to stem the flow of migrants will likely only make things worse. Going forward, Washington needs to work with Mexico to form a more cooperative and comprehensive migration strategy. Otherwise, the United States could find itself facing a much larger flow of undocumented immigrants at the southern border than it does today.
MEXICO AS A MIGRATION BUFFER
Last year, there were fewer people apprehended at the border than at any time in 46 years, and even with a
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