Failed Deterrence and Deportation Flights: The Latest U.S.-Mexico Strategies

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Author: Tania Del Moral

Levels of migrants and asylum seekers at the border are higher than they’ve ever been.
Over a million and a half migrants have been apprehended in the U.S.-Mexico border just this year. There are people of 152 different nationalities waiting to enter the country. In multiple cities in the United States there’s overcrowding in hotels, shelters, and streets causing public health, safety, and mental health concerns.

We know that the Biden administration’s attempt at deterring migrants and asylum seekers isn’t working. In May 2023, Biden announced a harmful asylum ban policy. Migrants who cannot prove that they applied for and were denied access to asylum in a country through which they traveled will be barred from receiving asylum. The only exception is if they have made an appointment using the CBP One app. The CBP One app is supposed to enable asylum seekers to get an appointment with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) while waiting away from the border and only travel to a port of entry for their scheduled appointment. But CBP One has proven to be another barrier for people that do not have smartphones, electricity, internet access, or read English, Spanish, or Kreyol – especially given the wide range of nationalities and languages spoken. This strategy has backfired on the Biden administration, which is now dealing with a humanitarian emergency at the U.S., Mexico border, and other transit countries.

Historically, deterrence policies such as the asylum ban have not succeeded at reducing or dealing with the root causes of migration. And, as we know from reports by LAWG and other groups, expulsions by flights prevent people from requesting asylum with U.S. or Mexican authorities or seeking support from lawyers and advocates. Now, the U.S. and Mexico are teaming up again to send thousands of folks waiting at the border back to their home countries on nonstop flights.

A Resumption of Failed Strategies

In September 2023, CBP’s acting commissioner met with Mexican officials of the National Migration Institute (INM), the governor of Chihuahua, and private sector representatives in Ciudad Juárez. Shortly after, the INM stated that it would institute measures to “depressurize” its borders. As of September 2023, the Mexican government has returned over 780,000 people by land and air. On average there have been six deportation flights a week to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, for example. The Mexican foreign ministry has also been meeting with officials from Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela to charter planes and carry out “assisted returns.” Processing centers at the borders are overwhelmed, but this is an inhumane measure to relieve the pressure and puts thousands of people at risk. This measure was ordered by the U.S. and is being carried out by Mexico. People who fled persecution, violence, corruption, organized crime, and climate crises will now be at square one. And we know the situation in the countries of return has not changed. In fact, conditions have worsened in those countries. Political instability, rising poverty rates, attacks against human rights defenders and journalists, and a growing trend towards authoritarianism.

Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and the United States were present at the 2022 Summit of the Americas, and publicly committed to the L.A. Declaration on Migration and Protection. But their actions to either send or receive thousands of migrants and asylum seekers back to precarious situations goes against their promises. Particularly, the U.S and Mexico should focus less on deterrence strategies and redirect their efforts to expand humane pathways for migrants and asylum seekers.

LAWG, along with partner organizations, demands the Biden administration establish humane pathways for migrants and asylum seekers to enter the United States. LAWG Executive Director Vicki Gass stated in a press release by the Welcome With Dignity campaign: “The U.S government’s outsourcing of its protection responsibilities to Mexico goes directly against the commitments made in the L.A. Declaration from the Summit of Americas to provide humanitarian approaches to immigration.” She also stated the importance of the U.S government restoring the legal right to asylum and addressing the root causes forcing people to flee.

Your support helps us advocate with the U.S government to create humanitarian policies that meet the needs of the thousands of women, men, and children seeking asylum. Together, we can speak out against the inhumane situation that hundreds of thousands of people are facing today.