Mexico officials feel Donald Trump harsh immigration policies helped them handle challenge better

The southern neighbor of the US has found things tougher after Joe Biden took over and tried to give the migrants traveling from Central America a more friendly message

                            Mexico officials feel Donald Trump harsh immigration policies helped them handle challenge better
President Joe Biden's more friendly stance to immigrants from Central America compared to that of Donald Trump has made things more tricky for them, feel Mexican authorities (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden pledged to improve the situation at the US’s southern borders with Mexico by taking a more humanitarian approach vis-a-vis immigrants. Unlike his predecessor Donald Trump who put up a strict border policy and vowed to build a massive border wall to stop infiltration from the South, the Democrat intended to provide citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. But his seemingly liberal immigration policy has seen waves of migrants thronging the borders which in turn has given rise to humanitarian crises of many forms.

The authorities in Mexico, too, have faced difficulties with Washington’s change of stance. While Trump’s initial months gave an impression that the two neighboring countries were set to witness more downs than ups in their relations because of the former’s hard immigration policies whereby he even threatened to impose tariffs on imports from Mexico if it did not curb the flow of illegal immigrants into the US. The Mexican leadership reacted to Trump’s threat to say “America First”, the former president’s favorite term, was a fallacy. 


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But it seems Mexico’s perceptions have changed fast. As the current US administration has struggled to manage things at the border, like housing thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, officials in Mexico have admitted that the border policies of Trump actually helped them in dealing with the large influx of migrants who went through Central America and Mexico to reach the US illegally.

The New York Times said in a report last Thursday, March 18: “The Biden administration’s appeal to do more against migration has put Mexico in a difficult position. While Mr. Trump strong-armed Mexico into militarizing the border, some Mexican officials argue that his harsh policies may have at times helped lessen their load by deterring migrants from attempting to make the journey north.”

Asylum seekers receive bottled water at an immigrant camp on December 09, 2019 in Brownsville, Texas, across the river from the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. (Getty Images)


The Biden administration’s appeal to do more against migration has put Mexico in a difficult position. While Mr. Trump strong-armed Mexico into militarizing the border, some Mexican officials argue that his harsh policies may have at times helped lessen their load by deterring migrants from attempting to make the journey north.

“Mr. Biden is less likely to resort to threats of tariffs to get his way, officials and analyst say. But now Mexico is being asked to hold the line against a surge of migrants — while the Biden administration is signaling that the United States is more welcoming to migrants.”

Conservative online magazine The Federalist said in a report that while the Trump administration made policies to stop illegal immigration, Biden reversed most of them, “exchanging them for what the White House calls an appropriate response to the border crisis, which the Press Secretary Jen Psaki labeled a “vital human challenge”.” The Biden administration has cautiously refused to call the situation at the border a “crisis” despite facing a backlash over the deteriorating conditions though White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had a slip-up last week to call it a crisis.

Following Trump’s pressure, Mexico agreed to tighten its southern border with Guatemala to stop migration from Central America but as the Republican faced a defeat in the November polls, the southern neighbor’s commitment to policing at the border may have loosened, the NYT report added. It also cited Mexican government numbers and data compiled by The Washington Office on Latin America to say that between October and December last year, the number of Central Americans that the Mexican authorities apprehended have declined even while detentions by American personnel have increased. 
“The likelihood of the outgoing Trump administration threatening tariffs again was low, so there was an incentive for Mexico to go back to its default state of low apprehensions,” Adam Isacson, an expert on border security at The Washington Office on Latin America, which is a research organization that pushes for human rights, was quoted as saying.

Change of guard in US hasn't assured Mexico

But Mexico’s problems have not reduced with Trump’s departure. Earlier in March, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had a video call with Biden around then, told reporters that many of the immigrants who are ready to undertake dangerous journeys across the southern US border illegally see the current US president as “the migrant president” as his policies seem to be more accommodating. “So many feel they’re going to reach the United States,” Obrador said even though Biden recently asked the migrants to not to come over to the US, during an interview. Reuters reported citing Mexico’s internal assessments on March 10 that the government there is worried that the Biden administration’s asylum policies are not only encouraging illegal immigration but also boosting business of organized crime.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador with former US president Donald Trump (Getty Images)


The Biden administration has denied accusations that it is promoting “open border policies”. Psaki said, before acknowledging that a record number of children are coming across the border: “We certainly also recognize that because the president and our administration has made a decision that the way to humanely approach immigration is to allow for, you know, for unaccompanied minors, to come and be treated with humanity and be in a safe place while we’re trying to get them into homes.”

“We recognize that but we made a policy decision because we felt that was the humane approach but the facts are the vast, vast majority of people who come to our border are turned away and the statistics bear that out,” she added. 

Is US vaccine diplomacy aimed at pressuring Mexico?

Meanwhile, the US has decided to send millions of vaccine doses to Mexico and Canada and many see it as a sort of vaccine diplomacy at a time when the Biden administration is asking Mexico to curb the wave of migrants arriving at the border. 

“The announcement of the vaccine distribution came at a critical time in negotiations with Mexico. President Biden has moved quickly to dismantle some of former President Trump’s signature immigration policies, halting construction of a border wall, stopping the swift expulsion of children at the border and proposing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States. But he is clinging to a central element of Mr. Trump’s agenda: relying on Mexico to restrain a wave of people making their way to the United States,” the NYT report said. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Getty Images)


The two countries though have tried to underplay any probable link between the vaccine diplomacy and the immigration problem. Psaki said discussions over vaccines and the border security between the US and Mexico were “unrelated” but “overlapping”. When asked by a reporter whether the US had “strings attached” to its help to Mexico with vaccines, the press secretary said there were “several diplomatic conversations — parallel conversations — many layers of conversations” at play in the talks.

Officials in Mexico also said the efforts to secure vaccines are separate from the migration talks and refused that a notion of a quid pro quo was at play. 

Roberto Velasco, Director General and Chargé d'Affaires for North American Affairs, said in a statement that two are separate issues but officials in Mexico City conceded that relations between the two neighbors, both of which has suffered heavily from the pandemic, would improve through the vaccine diplomacy. 

“We look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region,” the NYT quoted Velasco as saying.