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Biden's border measures fail to impress Texas or Mexico

By Eduardo García, Alfredo Corchado and Dudley Althaus

SANDERSON – President Biden’s executive order cracking down on asylum seekers at the southern border not only marred post-election celebrations in Mexico, which had just seen its first female president elected, but also left little impression on residents of that stretch of the Texas border.

Finally, many of the undocumented migrants who pass through this area are Mexicans, traveling alone or in small groups, looking for work in oil fields, factories and fields in the interior of the United States.

“Biden's move is certainly a political ploy,” said Sheriff Thad Cleveland, who worked for the U.S. Border Patrol for 26 years before becoming sheriff. “We are five months away from the election and this is pure politics. I don't think it's fair to our vecinos (neighbors) in Mexico either.”

Thad Cleveland, Sheriff (Courtesy of Dudley Althaus)

In Terrell County, which stretches 54 miles along the Rio Grande in the Trans-Pecos region of central Texas, there is a hidden irony: Many employers want to hire able-bodied Mexicans but are less open to non-Mexican immigrants.

In fact, Cleveland, a 50-year-old Republican, has a message for Mexico's newly elected President Claudia Sheinbaum: “Let's work together to issue more work permits for Mexicans and bring in guest workers. Our economy survives and thrives thanks to illegal foreign workers. That's just a fact, and our neighbors to the south are the ones who are migrating back and forth.”

ATTEMPT TO LIMIT ASYLUM

Biden's policy announcement last week was his latest attempt to bring some order to a crowded and chaotic border, especially in Texas and California. He aims to stop families, most of whom come from Central America, Venezuela, Haiti, Africa and elsewhere, putting further strain on an already overburdened asylum system. Many thousands are currently crowding the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to cross and claim asylum.

The move shocked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his newly elected successor Claudia Sheinbaum, who won overwhelming victories in last Sunday's vote.

Biden's order drastically limits the ability of migrants to seek asylum on US soil. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) immediately announced that it would challenge Biden's executive action in court.

“On the migration front, we have worked well together,” an angry Lopez Obrado said early Tuesday during his regular meeting with the media. He added that Mexico and the US “need a relationship marked by respect for our own sovereignty. We must pursue a policy of good neighborliness and protect our economic and trade integration.”

Summary of Biden’s executive actions on immigration:

  • If the number of migrants seeking asylum in the United States reaches an average of 2,500 per day each week, the United States may close the border to those seeking such protection.
  • Currently, the number of asylum seekers already exceeds this number. According to CBP, the restriction could come into effect immediately.
  • Currently, people who cross the border illegally and apply for asylum are released into the United States, where they must wait months or even years for their immigration court appointments, which can take many months.
  • If migrants cannot apply for asylum, they become stranded in Mexico. Many cities along the Mexican border and in the interior of the country are already struggling with the influx of migrants.
  • Biden's ban will be suspended if apprehensions fall below an average of 1,500 per day for three weeks. The last time border crossings fell to this level was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2020, when global travel nearly ground to a halt.
  • Exceptions to these rules apply to unaccompanied children, people with serious medical conditions, security threats and victims of human trafficking.

A NEW OPPORTUNITY?

The El Paso-based Hope Border Institute also sees Sheinbaum's election as an opportunity to “reset priorities” on migration policy between the two countries. It wants Mexico's next president to reject U.S. policies such as criminalizing migrants and deporting immigrants from countries like Venezuela, Haiti and Mexico.

The scale of the migration flow through Mexico is evident in the country's capital, where migrants have become a visible presence, engaging in a variety of activities: sweeping the streets, collecting government election materials from polling stations, begging for money on street corners, and even rowing “trajineras,” the famous human barges that navigate the canals of Xochimilco in the southern part of the city.

Some migrants are already putting a strain on some local services in Mexico. On Wednesday, Mexico's National Guard and immigration officials evicted migrants from a square in downtown Mexico City. Dozens of people from Haiti, Venezuela and other countries had camped there for months. Authorities said the migrants were being taken to refugee camps in nearby states.

According to a survey by the Puente News Collaborative, a nonprofit organization based in El Paso, Mexicans' attitudes toward migrants vary depending on the travelers' country of origin.

A sign in Terrell County (Courtesy of Dudley Althaus)

According to the polls, 57 percent of Mexicans give Chinese immigrants in the country a good or very good approval rating. Among Guatemalans, the approval rating fell to 39 percent, and among Venezuelans it is about the same percentage.

But the poll suggests that the majority of Mexicans overwhelmingly support issuing temporary work permits to migrants – rather than detaining them or building walls to stop them. Nearly two-thirds of respondents opposed detaining migrants, while four in five opposed building barriers to the flow of people.

However, some Mexicans are still seeking a better life in the United States, many of them fleeing the violence. Until 2016, more Mexicans were returning to their homeland than leaving. But since then, the balance has reversed: more Mexicans are leaving their country, mainly because of the violence, but also for economic reasons.

According to the US Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security, about 180,000 Mexicans emigrated to the United States last year, and in 2019 the number had already risen to 200,000.

Puente's survey found that more than a third of Mexico's 128 million residents would like to move to the United States and live there, but far fewer said they would do so without valid papers.

Sheinbaum will take office on October 1. She has not yet commented on Biden's immigration decision. Analysts expect that she will support any measures López Obrador takes regarding migration flows and his negotiations with the US government.

However, once Sheinbaum is in power, he may try to implement more inclusive policies for those who leave their homeland to come to the United States.

“With Claudia Sheinbaum, migration policy is unlikely to change drastically,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington DC

“But she could focus more on the targeted integration of migrants and refugees in Mexico, as she did as mayor of Mexico City,” Selee said, “and on positioning Mexico as a leader in the hemisphere on migration issues.”

Before such a proposal is considered, Cleveland said, many Texans living along the border want to bring the chaos under control.

A sign in Terrell County (Courtesy of Dudley Althaus)

“There are some things we can change in this regard,” Cleveland said. “But first we have to get back to securing our border. And we don't have to rely on Mexico to secure a border.”

About this story

This article is published in partnership with the Puente News Collaborative, a bilingual nonprofit newsroom, organizer, and funder whose mission is to provide high-quality news and information about the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alfredo Corchado is senior editor and correspondent for the Collaboration. Eduardo Garcia, who has 30 years of experience as a financial journalist in Mexico, is a contributor to Puente News. Journalist Dudley Althaus reported from Sanderson, Texas.