Fellow for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Charles J. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Law, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University
Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
Paul J. Angelo, fellow for Latin America studies at CFR, and Angela M. Banks, Charles J. Merriam distinguished professor of law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, discuss migration dynamics in the Americas, including ramifications of COVID-19, drivers of migration in the Northern Triangle and Venezuela, and U.S. policy responses.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Fall 2020 Academic Webinar Series. I'm Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today's webinar is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, cfr.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
So we're delighted to have with us today Paul Angelo and Angela Banks for a discussion on migration in the Americas.
Mr. Angelo is a fellow for Latin American studies at CFR. His work focuses on U.S.-Latin American relations, transactional crime, violent actors, military and police reform, and immigration. Previously, he was a CFR international affairs fellow, in which he represented the U.S. Department of State as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. And there he managed the ambassador's security and justice portfolio. He's a former active duty naval officer and was deployed to Colombia on three occasions. His longest mission there, he served as U.S. Embassy's principal liaison to the Colombian military and police along the Pacific coast.
And Ms. Banks is the Charles J. Merriam distinguished professor of law at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Her research focuses on membership and belonging in democratic societies. Previously, she was a professor of law at William and Mary Law School. She also has served as the Reginald Lewis fellow for law teaching at Harvard Law School, a legal adviser to Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, and a law clerk for Judge Carlos Lucero of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. And those are just to name a few of what she's done.
So Paul and Angela, thanks very much for being with us. Paul, let's start with you to talk about the push and pull factors of migration from the Northern Triangle and Venezuela, and how COVID-19 has fundamentally altered human movement in the Americas. And then we'll turn to Angela for her perspective on the legal landscape.
ANGELO: Thanks, Irina. And as you mentioned in my bio, I was an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations from 2015 to 2016, which is really the height of the child migrant crisis. So actually, in the wake of the height of the child migrant crisis that we saw on the U.S.-Mexico border. It was that crisis and the drama that ensued for the subsequent years that propelled me to assume this job, this role at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, in an effort to help address—by the Obama administration to address the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And I was in Honduras when Congress approved $750 million that were devoted to addressing those root causes. And just over the past year, I’ve also undertaken a major effort at CFR in running a Council Special Report about the multiple crises affecting Venezuela, to include the displacement of five million migrants and refugees across Venezuelan borders. And so it's with that perspective that I offer my comments to you today.
Discussing the push and pull factors, on the one hand, you have pull factors that, in many ways, are related to our own prosperity as a country. People want to come to this country because it's a place where you can seek and achieve opportunity. And in terms of U.S. policy, there's really not a whole lot that we can do, or we want to do, to make this country less attractive, if only because we also depend on migrant labor, the undocumented migrant labor beneficiaries of work visas for critical sectors of our economy.
Some other pull factors have to do with U.S. border policies in general. But the expedited removals that have been imposed by the Trump administration starting in April of this year, which is, ironically enough, because individuals who attempt to gain access to the United States are deported and sent back to Mexico without being detained for long periods of time in U.S. detention facilities; it's actually fueling increased Mexican migration, because we're seeing Mexicans try again and again to cross the border because they really—there's no cost to them to do so other than the cost that they pay to a coyote to get them across. And then another pull factor that we have to take into account is family reunification. And I believe last year, there were over one million citizenship extensions granted to individuals who had come, having been sponsored by family members already in the United States. But on the whole, and this is what I learned working at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras is that we can do a lot more about the push factors of migration and particularly those from Central America. So I'll just briefly list a couple of those.
I'd say, you know, the first and probably the most obvious is economic underperformance which has led to pervasive poverty in Latin America, but specifically in the countries of Central America. Honduras, after Haiti, is the most impoverished country in the hemisphere and Guatemala as well has denigration and extreme poverty, particularly in the rural space. In Honduras, two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line. And concurrent with that, when you're looking at surveys that are conducted of migrants who end up in U.S. detention facilities, we find that in a given—I believe this is a study from two years ago—seventy-two percent of Honduran migrants identified unemployment in their home country as the principal reason for leaving.
Across the region, we have a workforce that is largely employed in the informal economy, which means that individuals in Central America tend not to have access to credit and thus have diminished opportunities for social mobility. And many of them are also sort of off the grid and, as a consequence, lack health insurance and, particularly in the face of a pandemic like the COVID-19 pandemic, you can only imagine sort of what kind of dire straits many people in Central America find themselves today.
And I'd just say the most dramatic case of this is Venezuela. But in Venezuela, a lot of what we're seeing is more south-south migration, rather than migration from Venezuelans to the United States. Certainly it does exist and Venezuelans are using the Central American isthmus to access the U.S. border, but nonetheless, I think the vast majority of Venezuelan migrants and refugees have left. They've attempted to resettle in places like Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. And in Venezuela, we're seeing what was once the wealthiest country in South America now has a poverty rate of ninety-six percent. Six out of every ten hospitals in the country does not have access to consistent running water or electricity. And in the past seven years, we've seen a contraction of the Venezuelan economy by seventy percent. And so very clearly poverty and, by extension, inequality are drivers of migration from places like Venezuela and the Northern Triangle.
Another root cause of migration, I'd say, is corruption. And we see sort of two types of corruption in sort of a macro corruption in Latin America. First is the infiltration of state institutions by organized crime. And I would just point to the arrest of General Cienfuegos, who is the former secretary of the army in Mexico last week in Los Angeles for his accused collusion with cartels is sort of emblematic of the kind, the level of infiltration that we're seeing in the countries, in Mexico and in the Northern Triangle countries.
But then there's that sort of another class of corruption, that is political corruption, which has existed in Latin America for decades. And some of you may be familiar with the Astropharma scandal in Honduras from 2015, or the La Linea scandal in Guatemala, which saw the basically resignation of Otto Pérez Molina, who was the president. This is the kind of corruption that generates a sense in Central America that the rule of law does not work for me. And so I would point to that as another instance or push factor that encourages people to pick up and move northward. We've seen attempts to combat the impunity for that kind of corruption and impunity for homicide in Central America and institutions like the CICIG or the MACCIH in both Guatemala and Honduras, respectively, but the mandates for both of these international missions to help the countries to curb corruption and curb impunity for corruption were suspended as of the end of last year and the beginning of this year. And really, I think that has set us back in terms of helping address many of the root causes.
And then I would also point to repression as a root cause. The use of security forces and informal security providers, gangs, or illegal armed groups to silence opposition, be it political or social mobilization. In El Salvador, in Honduras, a case that I have dealt with directly was the Berta Cáceres assassination. Many of you will know that she was an environmentalist who was killed for her opposition to the construction of a dam on Honduras's last free-flowing waterway. In El Salvador, we saw earlier this year that President Bukele had used the military to intimidate lawmakers over the past two major electoral cycles. In El Salvador, we're also seeing that gangs are campaigning on behalf of certain candidates, which shows the kind of corporate power that informal security providers exert in communities in Central America. And then of course, there's the dramatic case of Venezuela where the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights released a report in September indicating that the Maduro regime was guilty or responsible for crimes against humanity. In Venezuela, since 2016, we've seen over eighteen thousand extrajudicial murders and of course, the jailing and torture of political opponents.
And this points to, this is part of what we also see throughout Latin America, which is generalized societal violence, and the countries of Central America, and especially Venezuela, have among the highest homicide rates in the world. Venezuela, for the past three years, has been the homicide capital of the world, and El Salvador and Honduras both had that dubious distinction earlier in the decade. And so, although the proximate cause of migration or security, insecurity, as the proximate cause of migration only affects about twenty percent of cases, according to U.S. asylum approvals, I would just point that not. although not everyone is fleeing a direct threat to their lives, everyone who is fleeing Central America, who's fleeing Venezuela, they are fleeing a violent context. And so we should be cautious about the intersectionality of the average migrant who seeks refuge in the United States. A woman who works in the informal economy and whose children are vulnerable to gang recruitment, who faces domestic abuse in her home, she would have sort of three aspects of her identity that would encourage her to pick up and leave. And we should be mindful that people often do not leave for a single reason.
And then finally, in terms of root causes, I would point to climate change. Over the past two decades, we've already seen an increasing concentration of people in the cities but now I see climate change is a threat multiplier. The Northern Triangle, for example, in certain years—I think 2018 was probably most emblematic—it saw forty percent less rain than the annual average. So, we saw prolonged periods of drought, higher temperatures, which have contributed to things like coffee rust, which is a fungus that, basically from 2012 to 2017, put 1.7 million coffee farmers out of work. And in 2018, in an area of Central America known as the dry corridor, the governments of the Northern Triangle issued an alert signaling that about two million people of those three countries lacked adequate food due to crop failure. These are trends that are only accelerating or only stand to get worse over time. Honduras, I recently read a report from a German NGO that lists Honduras as the second most vulnerable country in the world to extreme weather events. I think Guatemala was number nine. And this is, honestly, this is taking center stage really in terms of the calculus that many people, the personal calculus that many people are using in deciding whether or not they pick up and go.
And then just sort of finally, touching on some of the trends that we've seen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would just note that over this year, because of border closures, we saw initially reduction in migration from the Northern Triangle but it hasn't stopped completely. And in fact, over the past couple of months, as border restrictions have relaxed, we've seen again an uptick of people coming from the Northern Triangle. Many of you will probably have seen the news about a migrant caravan leaving Honduras a few weeks ago that was stopped in Guatemala because the migrants were not abiding by COVID testing protocols. And they were summarily rounded up and deported back to Honduras. In Mexico, because of the concerns about COVID, we've seen a number of migrant shelters that traditionally would house Central American migrants being closed, which is forcing a lot of people, more people to live on streets and in these sort of tent cities in border cities. And I would also just point that over the first half of this year, although we saw reduction of migration from individuals in the north from the Northern Triangle countries, we saw a commensurate increase in the number of individuals and family units and unaccompanied minors immigrating from Mexico. This, I think also points to my earlier suggestion that, in fact, the Trump administration's policy of expedited removal is encouraging Mexicans to attempt to migrate with greater frequency.
And I would just sort of close this as well with the pandemic has caused a serious contraction in Latin American economies. It's expected the regional economy, or the regional GDP, is set to contract by about ten percent this year. So we can already expect sort of the steady gains over the past fifteen years of poverty relief in Latin America to have been severely damaged over because of the consequences of this pandemic. But it's sort of an unseen side of this is the reduction in remittances that we can expect from United States to Central America and southern Mexico. In the first six months of this year in El Salvador, we saw an eight percent drop in remittances. And if, depending on the kind of recession or perhaps depression that we are confronting here in this country or in other countries in the region, I would expect a significant reduction in remittances, which has proven to be a main source of poverty relief in the countries of Central America in particular, which would then serve as a contributor of increased migration from the region.
And with that, I think I'll turn it over to Angela.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And Angela, that's a perfect segway to the legal landscape and U.S. policy on asylum, detention, et cetera.
BANKS: Right. So thank you, Irina, for inviting me to participate in this. And, Paul, thank you for laying out that great foundation in terms of why people are sort of migrating to the United States. And so I thought I would frame my comments around the Migration Protection Protocols, not only because this is a topic that's been in the news, but it does a really good job of sort of highlighting some of the policy changes that we see with regard to asylum and detention.
So, the Migration Protection Protocols were instituted in January of 2019 and it was a response to the increased numbers of individuals who were approaching the southern border of the United States seeking entry into the United States. Now, a lot of these individuals were seeking asylum. As Paul mentioned, there are a variety of reasons why people move and decide to try to migrate. Asylum only recognizes a fraction of those reasons as a basis for entry into the United States, but for people who are seeking entry, there's sort of two main ways that they might enter the United States. Traditionally, to enter the United States, you need some sort of visa, either an immigrant visa or a non-immigrant visa indicating that you have permission to enter. When you're seeking asylum, generally, you're fleeing. You have not been to a consulate to get a visa or whatnot. And that's perfectly fine when you're seeking asylum. So individuals will either present themselves at a port of entry. So I'm in Arizona, and Nogales is one of our ports of entry in Arizona, and you approach the port of entry, and you tell the authorities that I'd like to seek asylum. At that moment, you are scheduled to get a credible fear interview, and I'll come back to that. And if you pass that interview, then you are entered into immigration proceedings to adjudicate your asylum claim.
The other way is that you would sort of just enter the United States at some other place, not a port of entry, cross a river, cross the desert. And then once you encounter an immigration authority, you would tell that individual I would like to seek asylum. So for example, if you are identified by Border Patrol, or you might even walk to the Border Patrol station after you cross the border, and say, I'd like to seek asylum.
So between, in fiscal year 2018, approximately four hundred thousand individuals were apprehended along the southwest border by Border Patrol. And another approximately—I think it was a hundred twenty-five thousand individuals—were denied entry at ports of entry. So the administration was concerned about these large numbers of individuals who were seeking entry into the United States, and of all of these individuals, almost, a little over half a million individuals, around ninety-seven thousand were granted credible fear interviews.
And so the credible fear interview is sort of the first step to determine whether or not someone has a plausible asylum claim. And it is an effort to determine whether or not the individual has a credible fear of either being persecuted or having been persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, public opinion, or membership in a particular social group. And I'm happy to talk about that in more detail during the Q&A if you would like. But if the individual can show that there is a sort of possibility of persecution on one of those accounts, then they are allowed to proceed to adjudicate their asylum claim.
Now, the adjudication of that asylum claim traditionally happened in the United States and the individual would be detained. So after they passed a credible fear interview, they would be detained in the United States and detention for immigration purposes looks a lot like prison. So individuals are in sort of prison-like facilities while their case is being adjudicated. And then, once the case is adjudicated, if they are successful, they would be released and allowed to enter the United States and if they are unsuccessful, they would be deported.
Now, there are opportunities for individuals to get bond when they are being detained, but they are less available for individuals seeking asylum because of the often high cost of the bond. So bonds can range from anywhere from under $2,000 to over $10,000. In, I think was fiscal year 2018, less than five percent of bonds that were issued were less than $2,000 and over forty percent of the bonds that were issued were over $10,000, and unlike in the criminal proceedings, where you can go to a bail bondsman and you only have to put up ten percent and the bail bondsman puts up the rest, that doesn't really exist in the immigration context. So individuals seeking bond have to come up with the full amount in cash. And so you can imagine someone fleeing for their life for the reasons that Paul articulated, probably not going to have access to $10,000 to get released on bond from asylum detention. So that is the situation regarding detention.
So in, I think it was fiscal year 2018, almost seventy-seven percent of individuals who got a credible fear interview passed, and then they moved on to the removal proceeding to adjudicate their claim. Now, part of the challenge was that in January of 2019, the administration was concerned with these increasing large numbers, what they considered sort of surges at the border. And so they implemented a new policy, the Migration Protection Protocol, also referred to as the Remain in Mexico Policy, that changed how this asylum process works. So now under these protocols, individuals who present themselves at the border, who are seeking asylum, they will get the credible fear interview. And if they pass, they're no longer put in detention in the United States; they are now returned to Mexico.
Now, again, many of these individuals are not Mexican nationals. They are from various Central American countries, but because they entered the United States through the Mexican, through the border with Mexico, they are returned to Mexico, and they are required to wait in Mexico while their asylum claim is adjudicated. Now, what that means is that individuals who, again, are not from Mexico, are not—even if some individuals from southern Mexico might be migrating, but again, they're sort of home base is not in sort of northern Mexico— they do not have the resources or the network to sort of have a long term stay in Mexico. And as a result, you had the creation of an incredibly vulnerable population in Mexico. Individuals did not have the resources to rent apartments or long-term hotel stays while their claim is being adjudicated. And so we have seen as a result, the development of what are essentially refugee camps along Mexico's northern— the border with Mexico and the United States. And so one of the things that has happened as a result is that because—So let me back up for a second. The way that people are adjudicating their claims from Mexico, you might say how is that possible? The individuals are given sort of information about when their court dates will be. And the idea is on the day that they have a court proceeding, they are told a specific port of entry to appear at and Customs and Border Patrol agents will then transport them from the port of entry to their hearing location. And then after the hearing, they are returned to the border and then required to return to Mexico. Now there are a whole host of logistic challenges with that system, with attorneys not being able to adequately communicate with their clients, with individuals who are adjudicating their claims not getting adequate notice about their hearings and other information. So there are some technical sort of challenges with the program. And that gave rise to a legal challenge that was filed, I think less than a month after the program was implemented. And it's the Wolf v. Innovation Law Lab case. And the Supreme Court actually just granted cert in that case earlier this month, and so we will get a Supreme Court decision. And so what the legal challenge—there were several claims that were raised, but they were sort of two main claims.
And one claim was that the Migration Protection Protocols violate the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the federal law governing immigration law in the United States. There's a provision in that law that says that individuals who enter the United States from a contiguous border—Canada or Mexico—can be returned to that country while their immigration claim is being adjudicated under certain circumstances. And so the question is whether or not the MPP, the Migration Protection Protocols, adheres to those requirements under the INA, the Immigration and Nationality Act.
And then the second issue is that they are under—the United States is a party to the Refugee Convention and the Protocol on Refugees. We have sort of implemented those international agreements within U.S. federal law. And within refugee law, there is a requirement of nonrefoulement, and that means that we have, the United States has an obligation not to return people to places where they will be persecuted or where they have been persecuted. And so one of the questions with the MPP is whether or not we are in compliance with that nonrefoulement obligation in requiring people to wait in Mexico while their claims are being adjudicated, where they are sort of vulnerable to a variety of different kinds of mistreatment in Mexico right now. They've been victims of assault, robbery. Gangs are sort of taking root in the refugee camps and surrounding the refugee camps. And so there is a question about perhaps whether or not individuals are being sent to a place where they could satisfy the definition of persecution.
Let me then just say a quick thing about DACA. Because I know that was something that Irina had asked about. And so, as you may recall, the Supreme Court in June of this year decided that the winding down of DACA, the elimination of DACA by this administration, was unlawful. And it wasn't that the administration doesn't have the power or the authority to end DACA. It's just procedurally the way they went about doing it did not comply with federal law. As a result, the administration rescinded the memo that ended DACA or wound down DACA and issued a new memo indicating what was going to happen in the meantime, while they decided what the future of DACA would be.
So the new memo scales DACA back a fair amount in three sort of specific ways. One, there are no new applications. So if you were too young to apply for DACA when it was instituted but now you're of age and can apply, it is not available to you right now. You cannot issue, you cannot apply for DACA now. If you already have DACA, you are allowed to apply for renewals. And the second change is that renewals will now only be made for one year, rather than two years. Now, the fees haven't changed, but the renewal, the validation period of your DACA is one year rather than two.
And then, finally, no applications for advanced parole will be granted. And advanced parole is simply a mechanism whereby individuals who do not have lawful immigration status in the United States can ask for permission to leave the country and return and be allowed to enter when they come back. And so individuals with DACA—they would be submitting applications for advanced parole, if, for example, a family member in a foreign country got sick, and they wanted to return and see that individual or they wanted to attend a funeral or something of that nature—and then be able to come back into the United States to resume their life here. And those advanced parole applications were often granted, but now the new scaled-back DACA says those applications will not be granted.
So let me end there, and I look forward to the discussion that we will have as a group. Thanks.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you both. So now we're going to go to all of you. [Gives queuing instructions.] And I'm going to take the first question from Kazi Shahid Mehmoud. Please say what institution you're with and be sure to unmute yourself.
Q: Thank you so much. Are you listening to me?
Q: Thank you so much for taking my question. I am Kazi Shahid Mehmoud, department of political science at Emory University, Atlanta. My, first of all, my question is to Paul. The question is very much related with the national security of the United States of America and then the issue of the securitization. I have been doing my thesis in regard to the securitization and international security so, I would like to, I am interested to ask the question: how far the migration has been securitized and how far that migration has badly affected the national security of the United States of America? And because there are a number of things, there are the number of gaps and there are a number of, for example, the hostile or the negative trends, we can point out in terms of the national security and the securitization. So I am interested to ask the pertinent question that, how far that the migration has been securitized and how far the national security of the United States of America has negatively affected because of migration?
If you give me only one minute then I can ask the question to the Angela that, when we talk about the migration, so do you think that the migration is one of the fundamental issues and one of the fundamental, we can say the tendency in terms of international law? So do you think that international law has been permitting, for example, the legal migration are, there are a few existing gaps in terms of international law and how these gaps could be bridged? Thank you so much.
ANGELO: Great, thank you, Kazi. Yeah, so I think you're absolutely right in highlighting the securitization of the U.S. border and particularly rhetoric that points to the threat that migration poses to U.S. national security.
We saw, in the aftermath of 9/11, the securitization, sort of the militarization of enforcement of U.S. migration policies at the border. And sort of, ironically, what that did is actually help spur a wave of violence and criminality on sort of the Mexican side of the border. In 2004, we saw the collapse of the assault rifle ban, excuse me, in the United States, and Mexico imports about two thousand illegally imported firearms to the United States daily. And so, as we securitized the border and made it more difficult for cartels and drug gangs to get their product to market in the United States, these drug gangs and cartels then basically had a surplus on the Mexican side of the border and began to openly challenge security forces because they were so well armed in Mexico. And what they did is basically create a domestic market for drug consumption in Mexico. And as that market became saturated, they pushed further down into the northern triangle countries. And, in fact, a lot of the violence that we're seeing today is violence that is perpetrated by individuals and criminal organizations that are pushing drugs in particularly vulnerable neighborhoods or communities in Central America.
And that there has fed back into sort of the securitization loop in United States. And I think Donald Trump sort of epitomizes this the securitization of border issues, when he launched his presidential bid in 2015 with an infamous speech about how Mexicans weren't sending their best, but rather they were sending rapists and criminals to the United States. And so, you know, most certainly there has been a securitization of the border. But whereas it started in perhaps what was a well-founded fear that terrorist groups like al-Qaeda were going to try to access the United States via a porous U.S.-Mexican border, now I'd say the focus or the security focus, at least rhetorically on part of the Trump administration, centers on the risk that is posed by violent actors already existing in Central America and Mexico.
BANKS: So I'll just add, that was a great question to ask about the role of international law in migration.
So I think one of the things to keep in mind is that the international movement of people is treated very differently than the international movement of goods and services. Countries are much more willing to engage in international cooperation around the movement of goods and services in ways that they are not around the moving of people.
And so one of the reasons is that immigration is considered sort of one of the last bastions of sovereignty. States have this idea that one of the ways we define a state is by its ability to control its borders, and the movement of people across those borders is seen as so fundamentally tied to a state sovereignty, that there has been very little willingness to enter into sort of international agreements that would limit that sovereignty in any way.
Now, we see it happening more on a regional basis. So for example, the EU and other sort of regional arrangements that allow for the free movement of people, again, based on certain very specific characteristics. But I think in the long term, recognizing that migration is a global phenomenon and a global issue, it is going to take more cooperation among states to come up with any sort of solution that is going to be effective. I mean Paul has just highlighted we change one thing in the United States, and then the ripple effects in Mexico then ends up being a loop that then impacts migration in the United States. And so absent some sort of coordination about the different policies that are being enacted, we're going to continue to see these migration issues around the world.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to take the next question from the chat box from Labiba Faiaz Bari from Bangladesh. She has recently completed MSS in international relations from Dhaka University. There are many push and pull factors for migrating to the United States. People migrate to the U.S. to join their families, seek employment, to gain refuge from or to shelter from war and climate change, as Paul mentioned, et cetera. Considering the causes of migration, especially after the ongoing global health crisis, which will lead to global recession worldwide, how do you think the newly elected U.S. administration will respond to the arrival of new migrants? Well, I guess, play that out with Trump being reelected or Biden assuming the presidency.
ANGELO: I'm happy to take an initial stab at that.
I think the migration crisis is going to be the first challenge or the first crisis of whatever administration we have in 2021. As I mentioned, we've already seen a massive surge in Mexican migrants and Mexican applicants for asylum, particularly unaccompanied minors from Mexico. And now we, as we've relaxed border restrictions in certain countries, and as people are pursuing more dangerous illegal border crossings from Central America to access Mexico and thereby the United States, I think we can anticipate another surge of Central American migration and it's really just a perfect storm given how a lot of the spaces in which these individuals exist, whether it's along the sort of the migrant route or in these MPP camps on the Mexican side of the border, these areas are ripe for viral spread. And we still haven't gotten a handle on the pandemic here in this country.
And so I would say that, regardless of who wins this election next week, either administration, I think, is going to lean just as heavily on Mexico to enforce its own southern border. This is something that we saw actually, in 2014, 2015 during the Obama administration. President Obama and President Peña Nieto of Mexico worked very closely on surging resources, law enforcement, and migration resources, to Mexico's southern border through a program known as Frontera Sur. And we saw during that period of operation a forty-two percent decrease in migration from Central America, through Mexico to the United States during six months, the first six months of operation of Programa Frontera Sur.
The Trump administration has sought to do the same, basically imposing stopgap measures at each border crossing, using both Guatemala and the Mexican southern border as sort of limits where local border enforcement, be it Mexican or Guatemalan, can push or deport individuals back to their countries of origin if they're leaving from other Central American countries.
And I think that regardless of who wins, we will see sort of a more concerted pressure on the part of Mexico, on Mexico to enforce its own southern border. If we have a Biden victory next week, I would say that a lot of sort of the inhumane aspects of U.S. border policy or immigration policy that would, that have come out over the past several years of the Trump administration— things like enforced child separations, or the Migrant Protection Protocols. We may see, in particular for MPP, a reconfiguration of that. I think it was sort of just depend on about sort of where we sit with regards to combating COVID-19 as to whether or not we're going to start letting migrants and asylum seekers back into us detention facilities en masse.
But I think if Vice President Biden wins, we're going to see a reorientation towards addressing the root causes of migration from Central America and southern Mexico. President Obama had assigned this task to Vice President Biden from 2014 through 2016, and Vice President Biden has enduring and deep relations with movers and shakers in the Northern Triangle countries, with individuals in the private sector, and already has a template for engagement on how to help address the root causes of migration. And I suspect that he will likely go, in the early months of his presidency, go back to implementing those kinds of programs.
FASKIANOS: Angela, yes.
BANKS: Yeah, I was going to say, the only thing I would add is that I think, if President Trump is reelected, we're going to see more changes to U.S. rule, law, about procedure, and procedural changes that make it much more difficult for individuals to access asylum or other immigration benefits in the United States.
So I think one of the sort of hallmarks around his immigration policy over the last four years have been changes along these lines, procedural changes such as the MPP, the Zero Tolerance Policy, meaning that anybody who crossed the border without authorization was criminally charged, which led to the child separation in consequence. That was apparently known at the time that this was going to be a consequence of the policy but the idea was institute rules and procedures that can disincentivize people from migrating in the first place.
So it's a very different approach to thinking about the root causes, or not thinking about the root causes. Building on what Paul said, a Biden administration may go back to thinking about, okay, so how are the ways that we can support economic development, et cetera, in the countries that people are migrating from as a way to limit their desire or need to move. Whereas, and I think this is an important thing to think about in terms of when you have very harsh responses to migration, the idea that people will be disincentivized doesn't fully acknowledge the sort of difficulty of the circumstances that Paul described. So that, when people are moving under these circumstances, it's because it's their best hope, it's their best chance. And so the idea of being detained in the United States or even having to spend time in a refugee camp, south of the border, is not necessarily going to be the kind of action that is going to cause people not to leave a country where they're afraid their child is going to be murdered. And so thinking about different approaches as to what can actually be effective in encouraging people to stay in their home countries, I think is going to be one of the aspects of what the different approaches to migration will be between the Trump administration and a Biden administration.
FASKIANOS: And in fact, the number, the Trump administration has reduced the number of refugees admitted to this country to, I think it's about fifteen thousand. Is that correct? And in the Obama-Biden administration, it was at one hundred thousand?
ANGELO: Over one hundred thousand.
FASKIANOS: How much?
ANGELO: It was over one hundred thousand. It was like one hundred ten thousand, I think.
BANKS: Right. Structurally, just limiting the number of opportunities that people have to migrate to this country. And one of the interesting things is that it started with a focus on unauthorized migration and we see it expanding to other forms of traditional, lawful migration.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. So I'm going to go next to Aman Tune who has raised a raised hand, and please unmute yourself and tell us your affiliation.
Q: Hello, my name is Aman Tune. I am a graduate student at the University College of London pursuing my master's in international public policy. And I actually wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on the geopolitics of migration between the United States and Mexico so I'm really interested in this conversation. And I wanted to ask you both if you had any thoughts, really, on if you think at any point in the upcoming presidency, whether that be Donald Trump, possibly, or Joe Biden, possibly, if you think there—we could see any forms of comprehensive migration policy. Because I feel like in the past, we had President George Bush, who did the Secure Communities, and the, excuse me, and then President Obama kind of took that away. And then Donald Trump brought it back. And I just feel like there's been a lot of acts that we've passed and protocols that have been put into place, but nothing necessarily that's really comprehensive, that states like this is what we want to happen thoroughly for the next however many years. And so I would love to hear your thoughts on that.
BANKS: Yeah, so thank you for that question. It's a great one. And I think one of the major challenges with getting comprehensive immigration sort of reform or approach to immigration that is more comprehensive is it is difficult.
So let me back up for a second. So, the last time we had a major comprehensive immigration bill move forward, individuals who were long standing members of Congress got primaried and lost their seats. And so politicians, in many respects, are afraid that where they go on immigration is going to be, could be, the end of their political career.
And one of the reasons that this happens is not that there isn't widespread agreement on certain chunks of immigration reform. There absolutely is. For example, for Dreamers, there's widespread political support for some sort of pathway to citizenship for dreamers, the recipients of DACA. But what happens is that it gets paired with; well, it's like, we can't move ahead on something for Dreamers unless we also get something on border security. And so then the tension becomes okay, so what are we willing to what are what are the compromises we're willing to make on border security, in order to get a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers or a larger package of a pathway to citizenship. And so these politics of the give and the compromise, the give and the take, is what is really bogging down movement on immigration reform.
And I think that's why you see a move towards more discrete immigration reforms that don't have to, that don't have to tackle everything, but we can look for the small chunks where there might be abilities to make movement. And I think that's going to be one of the challenges now. It depends what this election, what happens in this election with regard to the House and the Senate. So perhaps if we have one party that isn't, if Democrats win the House, the Senate, and the presidency, then maybe we can see something more comprehensive done in immigration. But if there is a split Congress, or, any sort of other combination, I don't know that we will see that.
FASKIANOS: Okay, so I'm going to combine a few questions that are all on the same, sort of, getting at the same thing, from Blake Schlueter and Ana Maria Mayda, about the root causes. What policies can the United States enact to help bring social and economic stability to Central and South America in order to address mass migration at its source out? Alexa Huether are also asked that question. She's a student at Georgetown University. And Ana Maria talked about, there's considerable empirical evidence in the economic literature that improving economic conditions at the origin might increase, as opposed to decrease migration outflows. Reason being that higher income allows potential migrants to afford the moving costs. So if you could take those on, that would be great.
ANGELO: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, which is why, in terms of U.S. policy, regardless of who's in the White House, the U.S. government needs to pursue an integral approach to helping address the root causes of migration.
If we somehow find a way to reactivate economies in Central America, and people have a higher standard of living, but the rule of law is still fragile and people are still living in this violent context that I mentioned, then sure, we're going to continue to see people pick up and move, which is really why I see in Central America all the conditions to be a really great opportunity to reshape society and U.S. investments can be—these are small enough countries where a little bit of money can go a long way. I referenced a case that I know very well of Plan Colombia, which essentially amounting to about $10 billion over just a little more than a decade. And we saw a complete revitalization of the Colombian economy and the assertion of a monopoly on violence on part of the Colombian state in parts of the country that had been bereft of the presence of the state for decades, if not for the entirety of Colombia's history as a republic.
And so I think in terms of actual practical solutions, one, we need to find ways to bring people into the formal economy. As I mentioned, in places like Honduras, and Guatemala, more than seventy percent of the population is working in the informal economy, which means that people don't have the opportunity to even open bank accounts, they don't have access to credit. And they don't have health insurance, which is provided by employers, which means that they don't have opportunities for social mobility. And so part of it is going to require that the United States government and local governments lean on the private sector to raise taxes on the wealthy. The countries of Central America have among the lowest effective tax rates in the world. I believe Guatemala has the lowest effective tax rate in the world, and also among the countries of the hemisphere reinvest the least amount of its GDP back in social services. That simply just can't stand anymore.
And I think that, you know, a credible U.S. administration is willing to work hand in hand with partners in Central America will be able to get local governments and local private sectors on the right side of history, helping build and invest in the human capital of Central Americans.
Another thing that we can do, particularly as a stopgap measure for helping build climate resilience, is diverting more of our foreign assistance to the rural space. Even during the best years of assistance to the Northern Triangle under the Obama administration—in El Salvador a mere one percent; in Honduras a mere fourteen percent; in Guatemala, sixteen percent of U.S. assistance went to the rural space. That meant most of our investments were being made to address insecurity in Central American cities. But as I mentioned, the climate factors and the displacement of farmers and displacement of people from the rural space is gaining steam and has over the past decade. And so the United States would do well to invest more of its energy in helping create conditions so that farmers can continue to grow the crops they always have or help them transition, through technical assistance and through mechanization and investment in Central American rural space, transition to new kinds of crops.
And I think lastly, when it comes to helping reduce violence and insecurity, we can go back to what works. During the last years of the Obama administration, there was a concerted effort to implement something known as the place-based strategy in urban areas of Central America. And it was something that I worked on directly in San Pedro Sula in Honduras, when I was working at the embassy there and in the two communities that I was directly working with: Chamelecón and Rivera Hernandez, for those of you who are familiar with San Pedro Sula. We saw during two years of operation of the place-based strategy, which was the implementation of a community policing model and investment on part of the state, building community infrastructure, et cetera, we saw reductions in homicide in those two communities by over sixty percent in two years. Unfortunately, when the Trump administration came to power, the Trump administration halted aid to Central America for about a year, and a lot of the momentum that had been built up in the place-based strategy disappeared. And I haven't seen any indications that we've tacked back in that direction. But I think that, it's a model that works empirically. The data suggests that what we were doing was working, and it's something that certainly we can build on in the future.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to take the next question from Stephen Elliott-Gower at Georgia College. What sorts of issues do refugee seekers weigh when deciding whether to report to a legal point of entry or take their chances with an illegal crossing border? What misinformation might typically affect this decision-making? And I'm also going to add on to that a question from Beatrice Guenther at Bowling Green State University in Ohio about the number, the drop in the number of refugees admitted. What are the factors that could reverse this trend should a new administration come in, a Biden come into the White House? I mean, is that a change that Vice President Biden or President Biden can make without having to have, you know, all the House and Senate be Democrats? So I will get both of those questions to you, Angela.
BANKS: Yeah, those are good.
So let me start with the last one. That is sort of more in the executive prerogative about what the refugee numbers will be. So that is something that a Vice President Biden, who became president, even without control of the House and the Senate could institute.
With regard to how people decide which sort of type of entry they will make to the United States, it really varies. So one factor that comes to mind is, there was a period of time—well, something called metering that happens at the border. When there have been over the last sort of couple of years, when there were large numbers of individuals presenting themselves at the border for entry, the immigration authorities were not processing sort of everybody who was there—everybody who showed up on a Tuesday would not necessarily get through. They said that there were just too many people, and they couldn't process everybody in a timely manner. So they were closing the border at particular point in times of day, and people just wouldn't be allowed to enter. And so what would happen is that these sort of informal systems developed on the Mexican side of the border where the individuals would create sort of queues and people would have numbers and understand and they would work with some unofficial sort of coordination with how many people are allowed to enter that day, and which people who had been waiting would be the people who got to go through. But people were waiting months, months on the other side of the border waiting to enter in the United States.
And so many of those individuals, some of those individuals who had planned to enter at a port of entry and seek asylum, got very frustrated, were worried that they may never be processed. They may have had small children with them and sometimes they would then decide to take entry across water or land border and not enter through a port of entry. Oftentimes, those individuals, though, would seek out a Border Patrol agent to say I'm seeking asylum. So it's not as though they were trying to surreptitiously enter the United States and stay here. Because, of course, life as an undocumented migrant in the United States is a lot more vulnerable than an individual who is granted asylum. And so to the extent that you believe that you have a viable asylum claim, you want your day in court to be able to adjudicate that asylum claim, so you are seeking out the opportunity to do that. But that can be one reason why people choose different paths.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I'm going to go next to a raised hand, to Noe Ramirez, and if you can unmute yourself.
Q: I am really learning quite a bit, getting quite a bit of insight from this webinar.
My question is real simple. A question that I have asked before but I want to first make a comment on what was mentioned, in this case with respect to the push and pull factors. It seems that this is the first time I've seen where the pull and push factors model, if you will, is not playing out. All the, in the U.S. we had an economic boom during the first three years of the current administration, our immigration, immigrants were being pulled back. They were not being attracted. They were not being welcomed into the United States. Okay, that's one thing.
I think the global question here has to do, and Angela mentioned very precisely the need to improve on socioeconomics of the nations, but more globally, I think the U.S. needs to get more involved in improving not only the economic institutions, but other institutions in these countries for purposes of preventing the ongoing influx of immigration, illegal immigration.
Okay, so what is your opinion, either Angela or Paul, in this case, with respect to the U.S. needing to target the improvement of institutions by prioritizing funding, particularly for that purpose, that is to improve the institutions that are linked to the immigration like the judicial system, for example, law enforcement, education, the family, the electoral college and such? So I'll that is, I think, a valuable and important question for you all to address.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And Noe is with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
ANGELO: I'll take a stab at that initially. Thanks, Noe.
I would just say that, in order for us to create an economic miracle out of the Northern Triangle countries, you have to make this space safe for investment. And because of the fragility of the rule of law, and because of the lack of professionalism or the corrupt ability of the judiciary in most of these countries, I think you're absolutely right. I identified that as the cornerstone in which should be featured prominently, in terms of the targeting of U.S. investment.
You know, as I mentioned in my initial comments, there were two anti-corruption, anti-impunity initiatives, one sponsored by the United Nations in Guatemala, known as the CICIG, and another sponsored by the Organization of American States in Honduras, known as the MACCIH that really did help restore faith in the judiciary. In fact, in Guatemala, the CICIG was the most popular institution in the country at a seventy percent approval rating. And over the span of its operation from 2006 to 2019, we saw Guatemala's homicide rate halved. We saw four former presidents or current presidents either being indicted or put away in prison for malfeasance or major acts of corruption.
And because of the success of the CICIG as a model, it was that very success that led to its demise. As the CICIG opened up investigations into Jimmy Morales and people in Jimmy Morales's family and inner circle, it was then that the mandate was revoked for the anti-corruption body. And I think lamentably on part of the U.S. government, the Trump administration did not say anything in response that would that would have given the CICIG the kind of boost it needed for Morales to feel pressure to keep it ongoing. So now that that model exists, and that the CICIG has left behind a body called the FECI in Guatemala, which is a special investigative unit that has a higher level of judicial training and investigative training. I think it's something that, some variation of the CICIG, we could go back to, but I certainly don't see it happening under the Trump administration, we'd certainly need sort of a transition and executive power in the United States to see sort of any both rhetorical and then actual practical financing that would push us back in that direction.
FASKIANOS: I'm going to squeeze in one last question from Ernesto Fiocchetto, who's a PhD student in IR at Florida International University. He's originally from Argentina. And the protocol then enables us to send asylum claimants back to Mexico not only challenged the refugee’s rights, but also jeopardize Mexican sovereignty. How do both national governments tackle the situation? And, Angela, I think I’ll throw that to you.
BANKS: Sure. So that's a very interesting question. And one of the reasons the MPP is even possible is because we have cooperation from Mexico. So Mexico agreed that they would allow individuals who had a pending claim in the United States to have temporary lawful status in Mexico, so that they would be—because Mexico has its own immigration laws, we couldn't just require noncitizens to be, say you have to go to Mexico and Mexico might say, no, they're not allowed to stay here either. So it did require some sort of cooperation.
Another piece that's interesting is that Mexico has been reluctant to declare the sort of refugee camps that have been sort of cropping up as refugee camps. And as a result, the UN body that's responsible, UNHCR, for refugees isn't able to assist. So there are some ways that again, thinking about sovereignty and the international cooperation that's necessary. If Mexico were to recognize this as sort of a refugee situation and if these camps were arriving, or were existing, there could be some more institutional support, as opposed to just relying on volunteers and the individuals there being on their own.
But this does, it is a result of bilateral cooperation.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Sorry to go over but you were you were concise, Angela, in answering that question. I'm sorry we couldn't get to everybody's questions, written questions and raised hands, but we do try to end on time.
Paul Angelo and Angela Banks, thanks very much for being with us. Really a valuable conversation for this hour. We appreciate it.
You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pol_ange and Angela at @profangelabanks. That's easier to remember.
And as Paul mentioned, he did just recently produce a Council Special Report entitled The Day After in Venezuela, which you all should take a look. You can find it on our website for free. So please go there.
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