Guadalajara, January 22, 2021 – The year that has just ended will be remembered as the year in which the Coronavirus changed all areas of our lives. In social networks and in the media, the end of the “fateful and pandemic” year 2020 was celebrated, with the illusion that this 2021 that begins will be better. The great expectation is that a vaccination campaign will soon be achieved that immunizes as many people as possible so that we can restart many of our activities that were paused.
What did not slow down was the migratory dynamics in the region. The irregular flow of migrants to Mexico and the United States continued, there were even several attempts by “migrant caravans” which were thwarted. Deportations were not suspended despite border closures. The contributions of irregular migrants to North American society have also continued, performing essential tasks that have allowed both the care of the sick and the production of food and the distribution of other essential items during confinement.
The electoral triumph of the Democratic formula in the November 2020 elections in the United States has generated expectations and skepticism in the area of immigration. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised that during the first 100 days in office they would send Congress a proposal for immigration reform that proposes a route to regularize more than 11 million immigrants who remain irregularly in the United States and reverse “some of the pillars” of the anti-immigrant policy promoted by Trump: the construction of the border wall and the suspension of the asylum system in the United States that has caused around 60,000 people “registered in the Stay in Mexico Program” to wait in Mexican territory for the possibility of requesting asylum in the United States.
In order for the asylum system to be reestablished in the United States, it is necessary for the North American Court to once again accept as grounds for requesting asylum “persecution based on gender, resistance to recruitment or coercion by a guerrilla, criminal organization, gang, terrorist group or other non-state organization.”
However, there are other priority issues that the Biden and Harris government will have to face in addition to migratory regularization and the reestablishment of the international protection and asylum system: the pandemic, the economic crisis, climate change, racial injustice and the restoration of peace and social solidarity weakened during the four years in which Trump and his speech polarized American society.
Just a week before President Biden took office, a new caravan of migrants from Honduras set out. In 2020 there were at least three attempts by migrant caravans, which were discouraged by the government authorities of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, making use of their armed forces. Unlike the caravans of last year, this caravan achieved a greater call and managed to regain the attention of the media. The media coincide in identifying that the devastation caused by hurricanes Eta and Lota in November, the lack of employment caused by the pandemic and the violence associated with gangs and drug trafficking as the factors that originate the migration of Hondurans. The level of violence that has been seen in the most recent caravan in which the migrants try to overcome the military sieges to continue their journey is extremely worrying and the army tries to stop their advance in any way.
During the period of transition of powers in the United States, there has been talking of designing together with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras a regional migration strategy so that migratory flows are orderly, safe and regular, attending to structural causes of migration and respecting human rights. This strategy of the governments of the region, in practice, translates into “deterring irregular migration” using all available resources of the State. The great challenge is that respect for the human rights of migrants does not become a discursive formalism as has happened in the most recent caravan.
Paradoxically, during the pandemic and despite the fact that much of the aid provided to Central American migrants on their way through Mexico have been temporarily suspended, the transit through Mexico to the United States of small groups has been maintained. Most of the flow happens quietly and unnoticed. As long as “need and despair” continue to be the criteria of migrants to decide to embark on the path to a life away from misery and violence, it will be very difficult to order and regulate migratory flows while respecting human rights.
Another important issue during this year 2021 will be whether governments will vaccinate irregular migrants. The matter arose after the government of Mexico has appealed to “elementary human rights reasons” to criticize the governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, who announced that irregular migrants will not be vaccinated. Without a doubt, this is an issue that is not limited to the United States but to the entire region.
These are the main issues on the regional migration agenda during the year that is beginning. Although many of these issues depend on the immigration policy established by the government of the new US president, it will also be essential that society in general stops criminalizing and stigmatizing those who make desperate decisions in search of a decent life.
Fr. José Juan Cervantes, c.s.