The economic and sociopolitical situation in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in recent years has been dramatic and the pandemic has done nothing but worsen it. These three countries added to Mexico have been the source of much of the irregular migration to the United States during the last ten years.
But not only did the pandemic make the situation worse for thousands of people living in these countries, the hurricanes too.
Hurricane Eta among others has left untold destruction in its wake that hit the region’s most vulnerable populations particularly hard with landslides, floods and power outages.
To put it loosely, walking north will still be an option. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to do things differently, treating migrants and asylum seekers with dignity. But there are very real risks that sudden policy changes could lead to an increase in unauthorized migration. In recent years we have seen sudden changes in US policies send powerful signals to potential migrants and their smugglers.
The Trump administration dealt with a large flow of migrants in 2018 and 2019 by drastically reducing access to asylum applications at the border, signing an agreement with Mexico to make potential migrants wait in that country, and signing agreements with three other countries to send asylum seekers there for their cases to be heard outside the U.S.
Since March, the administration has also used an order from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to eject those captured at the border back to Mexico through an expedited process that generally takes less than two hours. These measures have been successful in discouraging migration, but at enormous cost to the well-being of migrants and to the integrity of the United States immigration system.
The new US administration will likely have to uphold the CDC’s order of summary expulsions, at least for a few weeks or months, and at the same time rely on the governments of Mexico and Central America to limit the movement of caravans through their territory.
But more changes are expected from the Biden administration such as the elimination of some of today’s most egregious programs that send people to wait for their hearings in Mexico or transfer them back to Central America to process asylum applications.
One of the themes that could work is to include some type of work path for Central Americans to do seasonal work in the United States. Second, the new administration will have to work with regional partners, from Canada to Costa Rica, to create new forms of humanitarian protection that allow those fleeing violence and persecution to obtain protection closer to home. This includes identifying people in distress in their home countries, either for protection in the country or for resettlement as refugees in the United States.
Third, a new regional approach requires a solid but humane application of existing migration laws among the countries of the region, with the desire to align their application with international standards. This means less use of detention in the United States, in favor of case management, for those awaiting asylum hearings, something that becomes more manageable with a timely asylum decision-making process.
And it probably means abandoning plans for a costly border wall in favor of more nimble types of tech barriers. The United States should not send asylum seekers to other countries, but that does not mean that there will be no co-responsibility to enforce existing laws that discourage irregular flows, especially if there are other channels of mobility and labor protection available.
And finally, a new regional focus means making a concrete effort to invest in the future of the Central American countries so that their citizens will have less pressure to leave in the future. This will require a combination of partnership with Central American governments and increased support for civil society groups.
There is no magic bullet to improve conditions in Central America, but the goal has to be in long-term efforts that can also generate some hope in the short term.
Returning migrants bring human capital and skills that can be better used in their countries of origin to generate local development. And governments can partner with financial institutions to help migrants turn their remittances into productive investments by providing credit to those who want to start and expand local businesses.
And in the meantime, the new Biden administration can transition to a new migration management architecture that can create opportunities for seasonal work, while investing in a better future for the region as a whole.
Crisis of backwardness in the courts
The delay was 542,411 cases in January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office. At the end of July 2020, it amounted to 1,233,307 cases.
The average wait for a hearing is 777 days, which makes meaningful domestic application impossible, and it is more difficult to secure the border when undocumented aliens know that they are unlikely to be deported once they have reached the interior of the country.
The need to hire more judges has made it necessary to lower qualification standards. The Immigration Judge Vacancy Announcement does not even ask for experience in immigration law.
Comprehensive immigration reform
More than 30 years have passed since the approval of the last comprehensive immigration reform bill with a legalization program, the last being the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). This last reform of almost 35 years needs an urgent revision so that it can adapt to the conditions in our days.
The country is going through serious financial difficulties that can make it difficult for the president to obtain funds to address these problems.
According to a September 2, 2020 report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal budget deficit for 2020 has reached $ 3.3 billion, which is more than triple the deficit recorded in 2019. CBO attributes this primarily to the economic disruption caused by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and the enactment of legislation in response to it.