AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Amid Caravan Crisis, a Look at Mexico's Migration Policy

Thousands of people—many of them women and children—are making their way in migrant caravans on foot, through tear gas, and over rivers to get from Central America to the United States. "They know what they're facing when they hit Mexico, they know what they're facing with the Trump administration. And yet they keep marching and they keep moving forward," says Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law and a lecturer on Mexican migratory policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Some 300,000 migrants try to make it through Mexico each year, explains Leutert, who met with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in Mexico City before heading to the Mexican border with Guatemala for research. Migrants who go it alone face steep smuggling fees, extortion, and kidnapping, leading some to sacrifice migrating under the radar in exchange for the safety of caravans. Says Leutert: “There is something political about what they’re doing and standing up and saying, ‘Look at our country: We don’t have a future there, we have the right to seek asylum in Mexico or the United States.’”

Mexico’s policy centers on apprehension and deportation, but it’s becoming more than just a transit point: from 2014 to 2017, the number of migrants seeking asylum there grew sevenfold, with the total expected to hit 23,000 this year. The country finds its refugee system short-staffed and overburdened while confronting a crisis that shows no signs of ebbing. On top of that, as discussed in this episode, factors like climate change only threaten to dial up the pressure.

All of this happens as Mexico prepares to inaugurate a new leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The future president has suggested offering work visas to Central Americans and calling all countries involved to increase development aid to the Northern Triangle—even as U.S. President Donald Trump threatens to cut it. But, when it comes to the complexity of handling migration, Leutert cautions: “Just like the Peña Nieto administration and the Calderón administration and the Vicente Fox administration, you’re going to see the López Obrador team hit the same challenges.”

Despite how formidable it may seem to solve the problems that spark migration, Leutert, who covers the issue for Lawfare, offers recommendations. For example, the United States could offer temporary work visas, Mexico could take a risk-management approach, and there should be a more dignified treatment of asylum-seekers overall. Because, ultimately, migrants leave Central America out of need rather than desire. “People don’t want to march in caravans,” says Leutert. “There are a lot of things that every involved country could do if they were really serious about stopping this.”

AS/COA Online - Obama's Latin Spring

This article was co-authored with Roque Planas

U.S. President Barack Obama has never traveled to South America before, but the month of March will mark an uptick in Latin America-related meetings for him. On March 3, he hosts Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the White House. Then, from March 19 through 23, Obama heads to Brasilia to kick off a five-day trip that will also take him to Rio, Santiago, and San Salvador. AS/COA Online looks at the issues likely to be discussed when Obama meets with the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador.
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AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: Governor Bill Richardson on Washington's Latin American Ties

“It’s not going to be easy, but I believe we need that comprehensive immigration bill more than anything or the country is going to be torn apart.”

Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about Washington’s Latin American ties, saying, “It’s our own region and if I might say so, we’ve kind of neglected it in a bipartisan way.” The former U.S. ambassador to the UN discussed the need for a hemispheric accord on transnational crime as well as the shifting U.S.-Cuban relationship, which he called “the best that I’ve seen in a long time.” But he cautioned that movement on trade deals and immigration reform may have to wait until next year. “What you will see if there isn’t bipartisan, comprehensive [immigration] reform is more patchwork laws like Arizona’s, which are not just unconstitutional—they’re very discriminatory, they’re divisive,” he said. He added: “They hurt our foreign policy relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.”

AS/COA Online: To start off, I’d like to talk about Mexico. The Obama administration has referred to a “shared responsibility” in the fight against organized crime in Mexico. As a border-state governor who also has a personal connection to Mexico, if you had to name one area for the U.S. to prioritize in its policy toward Mexico’s security situation, what would it be?

Gov. Richardson: It would be in the area of more shared intelligence with Mexico, and secondly, more cooperation in the area of restricting automatic weapons going into Mexico—a cooperative effort that I believe can be improved. On the issue of shared intelligence, it’s going to mean our joint security operations not just having more opportunities to do training and law enforcement activities. I support the Merida Initiative’s plan makes of additional helicopters. But we have to more effectively share intelligence, especially on the Mexican side.

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AS/COA Online - Taking Stock of the Hispanic Vote in U.S. Midterms

On November 2, Americans head to the polls for mid-term elections that will likely have a profound impact on the ability of U.S. President Barack Obama to advance his legislative agenda. Among those who could play an integral part in deciding the balance of power are Hispanics, who account for more than 15.8 percent of the overall U.S. population and close to 8 percent of registered voters. But even if Latinos are far more likely to vote for Democrats than the electorate at large, the question remains as to whether they’ll turn out to vote in large numbers.
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AS/COA Online | DOJ Files Suit against Arizona over Immigration Law

The Obama administration had hinted at it and the wait is now over: On July 6 the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit  to halt enforcement of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The brief argues that SB1070, passed in April and scheduled for July 29 implementation, obstructs Washington’s authority over immigration law and that “the Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.” By including such language, the Justice Department not only hopes to achieve an injunction against the law in Arizona’s U.S. District Court, but also to stem a spate of copycat legislation in other states. Moreover, the brief makes the case that SB1070 will hinder both local policing and national security efforts. “Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “But diverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety.”

The brief came from the Justice Department, not the White House, but was filed within days of U.S. President Barack Obama’s delivery of a speech urging comprehensive immigration reform in which he described Arizona’s law as “ill conceived.” Critics of the immigration law say it will lead to racial profiling, given it inclusion of a clause allowing police officers to request identification in cases “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”  While SB1070 has fanned the flames of the immigration debate domestically, it has drawn attention abroad as well. While touring Latin America in June, the first question posed in a televised interview with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the Arizona law. In her response, Clinton revealed the Justice Department’s plan to file a lawsuit.

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AS/COA Online | Security and Immigration Frame Calderón's DC Visit

President of Mexico Felipe Calderón pays a visit to Washington this week amid ongoing drug-war worries and rising U.S. tensions over immigration. In his first state visit to Washington since his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama took office, Calderón will also address a joint session of Congress. He is expected to stress bilateral responsibility in combating organized crime and cartel-related bloodshed in Mexico. But controversy over Arizona’s passage of immigration legislation SB1070 has pushed immigration higher up Calderón’s agenda as well. Moreover, with Mexico’s financial health tied to that of its northern neighbor, the visit will also focus on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, particularly a dispute over a cross-border trucking plan.

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AS/COA Online | Arizona Law Stirs Immigration Debate

Arizona’s tough new immigration legislation has put federal immigration reform back into the spotlight, even as the Southwestern state’s decision attracts condemnation and debate. SB1070, signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23 and scheduled to take effect over the summer, allows local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws and arrest undocumented immigrants. It also paves the way for police officers to request identification in cases where they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person may be in the country illegaly, sparking criticism that the legislation would lead to racial profiling. Individuals caught transporting undocumented immigrants will also face charges. The law could face an uphill battle, given that some lawyers deem it unconstitutional and the U.S. Attorney General’s office is weighing the possibility of a federal lawsuit. With cries to boycott the state in response to the bill, Arizona could endure economic repercussions and has already drawn harsh words from Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón, who branded the law as “unacceptable racial discrimination.”

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AS/COA Online | A Push for Census Participation

Census 2010 forms don’t get mailed until March, but the U.S. Census Bureau kicked off a national campaign this week in hopes of ensuring participation in the count. The million campaign includes cross-country road tours to raise awareness about the decennial survey and reach out to typically undercounted populations, including Hispanics. The counts factor into the distribution of $400 billion in annual federal funding to state and local governments. Despite the link between funding and completing the Census, the survey has sparked division between Latino leaders urging Hispanics to fill out the forms and those who contend that Latinos should boycott the survey unless Washington approves comprehensive immigration reform.

The Census Bureau estimates that nearly 250,000 Latinos went uncounted during the 2000 Census. But the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials places the figure closer to one million. Undercounting in 2000 cost states $4.1 billion in federal funding. California alone lost $1.5 billion. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragaisa—arguably one of the country’s most prominent Hispanic politicians—joined Latino leaders in calling for census participation. He argued that Los Angeles lost $200 million worth of federal cash because of undercounting in the last round.

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AS/COA Online - Congress Starts Engine on Immigration Reform

Even as the U.S. Congress hustles to forge ahead on health care, an Illinois lawmaker introduced an immigration bill on December 15. Over a dozen lawmakers joined Rep. Luis Gutierrez to back submission of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR ASAP). The proposed legislation represents the first immigration bill introduced since 2007 reform attempts fell apart. “We have waited patiently for a workable solution to our immigration crisis to be taken up by this Congress and our president,” said Gutierrez in a press release. “The time for waiting is over.” But, with issues like unemployment and Afghanistan on Washington’s table, the wait could well continue. Meanwhile, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are expected to unveil a bipartisan bill in early 2010.
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AS/COA Online - Interview: Rubén Beltrán, Consul General of Mexico, on Serving U.S.-Based Latino Populations

"The situation involves dozens of countries and hundreds of thousands joining the job market every year."

In an exclusive interview, Consul General of Mexico in New York Rubén Beltrán speaks with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about a new initiative bringing together Latin American consulates to expand services for immigrants in the tri-state area. The coalition marks the beginning of the project through the June 21 Feria Consular Latinoamericana in Harrison, New Jersey, where the consulates Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay will provide services.  Beltrán also discussed the challenges facing Mexican immigrant communities across the country and consular efforts to meet the needs of New York’s rapidly growing Mexican community.

AS/COA: You described this initiative (the Feria Consular Latinoamericana) as the first of its kind with this many consul generals coming together. Can you talk about how these consul generals came together and why now?

Beltrán: Well, it is the first time that several consulates of Latin America in the U.S come together to provide services in a joint fashion simultaneously...

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AS/COA Online - Pew Hispanic Center's Susan Minushkin on the Latino Vote

"It is a continuation of a trend that’s been happening over the past few elections and will continue to be a factor going forward, as Hispanics become a growing share of the electorate in the United States."

Deputy Director Susan Minushkin of the Pew Hispanic Center spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about the buzz over the Latino electorate’s role in this year’s presidential election. Minushkin emphasized that the number of Latino voters has and will continue to grow as immigrants become naturalized and the large pool of young Hispanics reaches voting age. The immigration debate may have played a role in the abatement of Latino voters identifying with the Republican Party, she says.

Minushkin, who worked previously as a professor at the Centro de Investigaciones y Docencia Economicas (CIDE) in Mexico City, also talked about President Felipe Calderon’s upcoming visit to the United States—his first official visit since taking office—and the high level of Mexican interest in U.S. elections: “Mexicans see that whatever happens in the U.S. elections as having a direct affect on the future of their country.”

AS/COA: The issue of the Latino vote has been a big one this election year. What’s different this time around compared to previous years in terms of the Hispanic electorate?

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AS/COA Online - Interview: Jorge Castañeda, Former Foreign Minister of Mexico, on Immigration Reform

"It takes leadership because most politicians in the United States don’t want to lead on this. They look at McCain and they say, 'Look what happened to him.' Who wants to take a leadership position on this and then get slammed in Iowa?"

In an interview, former Foreign Minister of Mexico Jorge Castañeda talks about his new book Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis. Talking before an AS/COA event, Castañeda, who played a firsthand role in attempts to pass a U.S.-Mexican immigration agreement during the Fox administration, says passage of immigration reform will depend on election of a U.S. leader “with more political capital than Bush has.”

The author and political analyst, now a professor of politics and Latin American studies at New York University, also says the need for a decision on comprehensive immigration reform will become increasingly apparent: “It’s either regression—with all the dangers and the outrages of separating women from their children, of deporting people, of raiding houses—or it’s reform.”

In the book, you discuss how immigration reform became central to Mexican foreign policy after [former President Vicente] Fox came to power. Meanwhile, in the United States there has been this turn towards nativism. Given the implied conflict here, what will it take for immigration reform to move forward?

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IPS News - 'The Gatekeeper' Shows Plight of Mexican Migrants

”Welcome to California,” says an undocumented Mexican lab worker after showing how to make the drug methamphetamine by mixing toxic chemicals over a burner in a dim, windowless shack.

The scene is from ”The Gatekeeper,” a drama tracing the experiences of a group of Mexicans who illegally cross the Tijuana-San Diego border. After arriving in the United States, the migrants are forced to work making the highly addictive street drug, also known as ”speed” or ”meth”, to pay off their passage.

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Queens Chronicle - A Relay From Mexico to Qns. Carries Torch for Immigrants

A delivery that traveled 3,133 miles arrived at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Jackson Heights, giving special meaning to the area’s large Mexican community.

About 6,000 runners between Mexico City and New York formed a symbolic chain known as the Carrera Antorcha Guadalupana, crossing the border to carry a torch and two paintings from the Mexican capital’s Basilica de Guadalupe.

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The Boston Globe - Sited: The food is out there

How to get food stamps to the people who need them?

Massachusetts, with its liberal reputation, is the third worst in the country at getting the message out, with only 40 percent of qualifying people getting food stamps, according to a federal study.

That's why a Web site,, moved into Spanish last month.

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The Boston Globe - Touring in Tongues

The 91-degree August morning doesn't alter Rafael Torres's energy level. Squinting in the bright sun, he calls out, "Yours in Spanish?" while offering brochures to Boston Harbor Tourists."

"I love doing tours," he said. "If I have 40 people it's even better."

The 51-year-old native of Colombia developed an interest in tourism after 20 years of working for organizations such as La Alianza Hispana and the YMCA. He started asking local tour companies if they wanted a biligual guide, but, "They weren't interested," he said.

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