Asylum Shopping is Back: Migrants in Newest Caravan Reject Mexican Humanitarian Visas

Migrants in the newest caravan departing from southern Mexico to the United States recently rejected humanitarian visas from the Mexican government. These actions reveal that many members of the group are not bona fide asylum seekers and asylum country shopping is returning under the Biden administration.

According to a new report from Reuters, members of the 3,000-person caravan rejected humanitarian visas that allowed children and pregnant women to remain in Mexico legally. This demographic represents the vast majority of members in the group. The visas grant migrants access to public services like healthcare and the ability to work for at least a year.  

The actions from these migrants illustrate that they are likely coming to the United States for better economic opportunities or to reunite with family members. This may explain why in 2019, a grant of asylum followed a credible fear determination just 15 percent of the time.

Under U.S. asylum law, an individual may only qualify for asylum if they are persecuted by their government based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership to a particular social group. Using the nation’s asylum process as a means to seek better wages while sidestepping other countries is not how the system was ever envisioned to operate. 

The concept of bypassing other countries to come to the U.S. is commonly referred to as asylum country shopping and has worsened after the Biden administration terminated the Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs) with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador—countries where the vast majority of asylum seekers are coming from.

The Trump administration negotiated these agreements with these governments in 2019. The agreements required asylum seekers to seek asylum in the first safe country they arrived in. If a migrant did not apply for asylum there or refused previous offers, they could become ineligible for asylum in the United States and became easier to remove from the country.

Without these agreements in place, large caravans of meritless asylum seekers will continue to arrive at the southern border. These surges make it more difficult for already overstrained immigration officials and often contribute to increases in apprehension totals—which have reached all-time highs under the Biden administration.

People who face real persecution are also negatively affected by asylum country shopping. Meritless asylum seekers contribute to an asylum backlog that stands at hundreds of thousands of cases deep. This means legitimate asylum seekers are pushed to the back of the line and may get their case never heard (or if they are heard, it may take a several year process). Asylum country shopping additionally encourages migrants to trek to the U.S.-Mexico border where they often face crime, extreme weather, and suffer significant financial loses throughout their journey.

Without a meritless asylum deterrent in place such as the ACAs, asylum shopping will remain rampant and negatively affect both Americans and those who truly deserve our protection.