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Why US-Mexico border crossings are at a record low

Border police on the US-Mexican border. Credit: Getty

July 6, 2024 - 5:00pm

President Joe Biden imposed asylum restrictions one month ago to “gain control of the border” ahead of the November elections. Migrant encounters subsequently crashed by 40%, with the White House boasting this week that they’d hit a record low.

Anecdotal stories from the Mexican side of the border suggest many migrants and the smugglers are taking a wait-and-see approach with the new executive order, which restricts asylum claims after encounters reach 2,500 between ports of entry. As a result, shelters along stretches of border regions have run out of space as asylum seekers are returned to Mexico. Other migrants have preferred to try their luck with an application known as CBP One, which allows them to request appointments for entering at ports of entry and presenting asylum claims.

Less emphasised in the news stories is that Mexico has detained increasing numbers of migrants in 2024 — effectively “doing the dirty work” that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) vowed to avoid upon winning office in 2018.

It’s a job AMLO is loath to acknowledge. He describes his government as “humanist”, attacking US Republicans for pushing anti-immigration laws. “They’re forgetting the Bible speaks of treating the stranger well and showing love for the other,” he said. “They’re hypocrites.”

Yet he largely dismisses stories of atrocities committed against migrants in Mexico — such as the kidnapping of 19 migrants, who were pulled from buses by drug cartel thugs near the Texas border — as media exaggerations. He also hasn’t fired immigration commissioner Francisco Garduño after a 2023 fire killed 40 migrants in a Ciudad Juárez detention facility. (Garduño faces charges for the fire.)

But AMLO, like his predecessors, can be convinced or coerced into assuming an enforcement role. Former president Donald Trump threatened escalating tariffs in 2019, prompting AMLO to send the newly formed National Guard to the northern and southern borders — the force’s first deployment.

Biden has convinced AMLO to take action, too. But nobody knows the arrangement. The recent rise in migrant enforcement commenced after a December visit from US officials led by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the National Palace in Mexico City. Details of the post-Christmas visit are scant, but a joint statement offered boilerplate commitments to promoting more orderly migration, addressing the root causes and disrupting human trafficking organisations.

The US version of the statement also spoke of arresting “democratic decline” as part of the root causes. AMLO omitted the statement, which would have embarrassed the migrant-expelling regimes of Cuba and Venezuela that he defends. The US, following AMLO’s lead, removed the reference to “democratic decline” the following day.

The redactions demonstrated a pattern of the Biden administration appeasing AMLO, who assumes an immigration enforcement role in exchange for US silence on everything from the President’s attacks on Mexico’s autonomous institutions – including the courts, electoral institute and transparency institute — to his feet-dragging on fentanyl interdiction and slow-rolling trade disputes on clean energy investments.

AMLO’s replacement Claudia Sheinbaum, who won the Mexican elections overwhelmingly in June, has said little on migration — generally a non-issue in Mexican elections — other than speaking of addressing “root causes” and pledging increased protection for Mexicans living in the United States. She’s also unlikely to allow a restoration of Remain in Mexico — the scheme in which asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases are heard in US courts — should Trump win the November election.

But she’s likely to play ball on immigration enforcement, just like her predecessors. “This government is going to do what it can to avoid confrontations with the United States,” said Javier Urbano, migration policy expert at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. “And migration is one of the big issues that generates tensions.”

Sheinbaum has promoted nearshoring — in which companies move supply chains from China to North America — as an economic engine of her administration, giving her ample reason to get along with the United States. The USMCA trade agreement is also up for review in 2026 and is important for Mexico, which sends 80% of its exports to the United States.

But AMLO has set the example for her to follow should she want to extract more for assuming the migration-enforcer role.


David Agren is a freelance journalist based in Mexico City.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
14 days ago

The question then is if it so easy to reduce crossings, why did the feds wait until now?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I think we already know the answer.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Climate change and/or Trump.

T Bone
T Bone
14 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Because they care so much about humanity!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
14 days ago

Very good analysis. Not surprising that Mexico uses it for leverage vs US. Trump disturbed the s**t by talking up the wall. The legions who lied about it are a deeply cynical elite, even if they have both red and blue cohorts. Hoping it doesn’t get sacrificed again to our craving for cheap manufactures.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
14 days ago

The title of this article is deceptive. RECORDED crossings do not equal ALL crossings, merely those who had an encounter with border patrol.

This is similar to those Californian cities that recorded “record low crime”, after redefining crime to exclude certain categories which were previously included (ex. any theft under ($950 is a misdemeanor, not a felony).

Another cause is when police started avoiding criminal encounters after liberal prosecutors refused to prosecute anyone for crime.

Ultimately, they’re cooking the books.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
14 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Ding! Ding! Ding!
We have a Winner!

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
13 days ago

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes, hmm …. ? 😉

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
13 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

“Record low number of drive-by shootings, amidst a spike of fatalities due to accidental discharge from a moving vehicle.”

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
13 days ago

Record low? Yeah, sure, if you keep records going back only a month or so.