In an indirect confirmation that Trump’s immigration policies are already working, Reuters reports that the number of people applying for asylum in Mexico has soared by more than 150% since Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, according to Mexican data, as more Central American migrants seek to stay rather than take their chances in the United States.
Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, received 5,421 asylum applications between November 2016 and March, a 150% increase from 2,148 over the same period in 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, the number of detentions along the south-western US border has fallen about 4% over the same five-month period, as Trump’s tough immigration proposals sent a chill through neighboring countries.
Like the vast majority of Mexico’s asylum applicants, many of those detained on the US border come from the violence-plagued “Northern Triangle” of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Meanwhile, the number of Central American families stopped at the US-Mexico border has dropped steadily since Trump’s election victory to just over 1,000 in March – a 93% fall from December, according to Department of Homeland Security data.
As part of his election campaign, Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration by deporting millions and building a wall on the US-Mexico border – measures some Central Americans say have scared them into putting their travel plans on ice. Additionally, fewer Central Americans appear to be entering Mexico. Just less than 15,000 Central Americans were detained by Mexican immigration agents in the first two months of this year – a 27% drop in detentions from the same period in 2016.
This could be a result of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric or because people are unable to afford the rising fees demanded by coyotes, or people smugglers in the wake of tighter border controls.
The fall in detentions could also be partly explained by the Mexican government has declared intention to use immigration – specifically Mexico’s key role in stopping migrants reaching the US border – as a bargaining chip with the Trump administration.
As the Guardian adds, analysts say that it is too early to say whether Trump’s rhetoric has directly influenced the recent upsurge in refugee applications in Mexico. “The views that people have about a political change, they definitely impact everyone’s consciousness,” said Cinthia Perez, a director at Comar.
But even before Trump, more and more people forced to flee the deadly mix of violence, impunity and poverty in the northern triangle were seeking refuge closer to home rather than risk the perilous journey to the US border. In Mexico, applications have been rising steadily in recent years, with 8,781 applicants in 2016, up from just under 3,500 in 2015.
Perez said it was not yet fully clear whether the Trump factor was contributing to a rise in asylum applications that stretches back several years. But she said it was a possibility the agency would need to study further by asking applicants more Trump-focused questions.
Comar predicts it could receive over 22,500 asylum applications in 2017, and Perez said she did not believe Trump’s arrival at the White House had significantly altered that estimate. Perez added that Comar’s work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other civil society groups in identifying the types of people who could be eligible for asylum had also helped drive up the numbers.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Mexico, Francesca Fontanini, said better conditions for Central American migrants arriving in the country, coupled with efforts to reunify families, were also contributing to the jump in the numbers of applicants.
It would be ironic if Mexico eventually emerges as the new mecca for Latin American immigrants; alternatively it is also possible that Mexico is merely “accumulating” potential refugees, borrowing a page out of the Erdogan strategy playbook, to use as leverage in future trade negotiations with the US.