U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan says he wants a “safe third country” agreement to ensure that migrants passing through Mexico are required to request asylum there first.
If newly elected President Manuel Lopez Obrador signs on, would such an agreement be worth the paper it’s printed on?
Lopez Obrador campaigned on a pledge to revamp his nation’s “passive role on immigration.” His new interior minister, Olga Sánchez Cordero, has vowed to make Mexico “a place of sanctuary” for refugees.
This would be a dramatic turnaround from Mexico’s typical handling of Central American migrants – waving them through to the U.S. and exposing them to a gantlet of abuse and depredations along the way.
Indeed, little in Mexico’s performance – marked by rampant corruption and routine abandonment of the rule of law — points to reform. Accepting and enforcing a binding agreement on refugees seems a stretch.
Under international law, anyone has the right to apply for asylum in any country that has signed the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, and to remain there until authorities have assessed their claim.
“This is a breakthrough piece of legislation that significantly advances international protection practices in Mexico, and for Latin America as a whole,” enthused the U.N. High Commissioner, doing his best imitation of Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in Our Time” declaration.
The situation in Mexico has only deteriorated.
Like Donald Trump, Lopez Obrador is a disruptor and may do things his predecessors have not. If he does make an effort, the Mexican judicial system may have an easier time turning around economic migrants posing as asylum seekers.
On the other hand, rooting out corruption and crime in Mexico will not be an easy task, and having been granted asylum in Mexico, many migrants (after coming to the conclusion that Mexico is not much better than the countries they left) might just use that as an opportunity to cross into the United States when the opportunity presents itself.
The arrest of two Mexican nationals last week shows how criminal behavior is deeply embedded in the country’s ruling class. The cousin of a Lopez Obrador transition team official (also governor of the crime-ridden border state of Tamaulipas) was caught trying to fly out of San Antonio with $900,000 in drug money. Rafael Gabriel Martinez Leal told Homeland Security agents he smuggled $1 million of narcotics proceeds a week to Mexico. Drug- and human-trafficking corridors are often one and the same.
Amid the ongoing crisis south of our border, McAleenan and the Trump administration are right to pursue a refugee agreement with Mexico — and to expect Lopez Obrador to live up to his lofty humanitarian agenda.
Likewise, the U.S. Congress must do its part to stanch the migrant tide by enacting strict immigration laws in the best interest of the United States.
“It’s a crisis and our legal framework [is]inviting it,” McAleenan observed. He’s right about that, too.