EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A group of nearly 100 North American scholars is calling on the Biden administration to phase out COVID-19 related expulsions of migrants at the border and for Mexico to refrain from stopping international asylum-seekers crossing its territory.
This, to reduce violence faced by international citizens passing through Mexico and facing a bottleneck at the U.S. border that forces them to resort to smugglers, the scholars said in a teleconference on Monday.
“As you increase the enforcement on asylum-seekers going through Mexico, what you get is people hiding, people taking more dangerous routes and getting involved with dangerous people along the way […] and it becomes a huge problem,” said Jeremy Slack, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso.
The scholars said they don’t see an “immigration crisis” on the border, but they fear prolonged and unnecessary detentions in the United States, mass expulsions of families and individuals to Mexico and a Mexican system lacking adequate services and resources could bring a humanitarian crisis. The scholars on Monday proposed:
- Ending fast-track expulsion of unauthorized migrants at the border under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Title 42 order;
- Improving communication and coordination efforts between Mexico and the United States on establishing a criterion for who is allowed to remain in the U.S. and who gets deported to Mexico;
- Increasing the capacity at migrant care shelters;
- Using the successful rollback of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program as a model to allow new claimants to begin an orderly asylum process in Mexico;
- And having Mexico — which just days ago pledged to the United States that it would increase immigration enforcement – stop detaining Central Americans and others who traverse its territory to present an asylum claim in the United States.
“The politics of enforcement and (militarization) only favor the coyotes (smugglers) and increase the chances that a person will suffer abuse,” said Emiliano Diaz Carnero, a researcher at Mexico’s Northern Border College (COLEF). “In times of a pandemic […] detention increases the risk of contact. We must look for alternatives to detention to dismantle the structure of crime and human trafficking.”
The scholars argued the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have stabilized in both Mexico and the United States, so the public health Title 42 order is no longer justified.
“People coming in from the outside have generally been testing at normal rates compared to people inside the United States,” said Josiah Heyman, professor of anthropology and director of UTEP’s Center for Interamerican and Border Studies. “So, it’s not a question of it coming in from the outside.”
Heyman said all asylum-seekers could be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the United States, using the MPP wind-down model. Asylum-seekers placed in that program, which is also known as “Remain in Mexico,” are being re-admitted by the hundreds in coordination with various United Nations agencies operating in Mexico.
“People were tested in Mexico before coming here. There are pathways so people testing positive can be quarantined. This is going to take planning, preparation and some investment, but we know how to do it; it’s already been done with the unwinding of MPP,” Heyman said.
The group is also calling for the Biden administration to stop practices such as expelling migrants late at night in small, remote Mexican towns south of Columbus, New Mexico and Sasabe, Arizona, and taking families who crossed the border at South Texas to be deported hundreds of miles away.
Group members said they will share their recommendations with lawmakers and institutions in Mexico and the United States.