MEXICO-US DEADLOCK?

DIPLOMACY & POLITICS | FOCUS: BORDER WALL ALTERNATIVES

With the US at an impasse over President Trump's border wall, Obrador's Mexico is attempting a new approach to immigration.

Border Patrol agents are pictured during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez


Before the situation worsened this month as the US came to a standstill over President Trump's border policy, the US and Mexico had been trying a new strategy that does not involve further border troops.

It was a choice between tackling the symptoms of the migrant crisis or attempting to deal with the root causes of the problem.

In December, the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs and the US Department of State published a joint statement titled “Mexico-United States Declaration of Principles on Economic Development and Cooperation in Southern Mexico and Central America," establishing a plan to deal with migrants that does not include a massive border wall.

The strategy includes a five-year investment program that will see Mexico invest as much as USD25 billion in economic development of its Southern states. The US has agreed to contribute with USD10.6 billion of this, which will include USD5.8 billion for development in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) of Central America and a further USD4.8 billion for Mexico.

The idea is that if people have access to dignified living standards, including security, paid work, food, and access to healthcare, they will be less inclined to leave their homes and undergo the harrowing thousand-kilometer long illegal march at the mercy of smugglers and gangs to taste the so-called American Dream.

While this argument seems solid, contrasts with the policies of both the US and Mexican governments over recent decades, which have generally been focused on tightening border controls and enforcing extradition.

The agreement is the latest development in a consistent change in the status quo initiated by the recently elected Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

After less than a month in power, Obrador is facing his first major challenge with the migrant crisis. Now, with massive waves of people fleeing from violence, famine, and corruption piling up in Mexican territory and with a tougher stance on border security being enforced by president Trump, the problem has become a priority.

Obrador's shift in strategy is also a reaction to the fact that Mexico is now becoming a destination country for migrants and is no longer just a transit country for people heading to the US.

More and more people each year request asylum in Mexico and seek to build a life in the country. As he put it himself, “this is not a problem that can be confronted only with the use of force, with coercive measures; human rights must be guaranteed."

Investment in businesses, infrastructure, tourism, housing, and education can go a long way to improve the living conditions of the impoverished southern regions of Mexico and to even make use of the growing workforce to develop the region and prevent the need for so much migration to the US.

Just days after his inauguration, Obrador signed an agreement with Central American governments for an integral development plan and a proposed increase in working visas for migrants from the region.

“I have a dream that I want to see become a reality... that nobody will want to go work in the US anymore," Obrador stated shortly after his inauguration.

That dream will take a long time to fulfill, if it can ever come to pass, but the current strategy seems more in line with reaching that goal than repressive measures.

The exact investment plan hasn't been defined yet. According to the United States Department of State the USD4.8 billion investment in Mexico will come in the form of private and public loans, so it is credit that must be paid back eventually.

As for the aid to the Northern Triangle, that had already been budgeted for and would have happened either way. The true accomplishment of this agreement is a shift in rhetoric and tactics that could come to truly benefit the natives of the region that have faced crime and violence for so long.