BROWNSVILLE, TX. – As I write this from the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, there are more than 60,000 migrants on the other side, waiting to cross. They come, most of them, from the poorest, most violent, unequal and battered countries in Latin America.
And with the end of the so-called Title 42 – a public health regulation that allowed for swift deportations during the pandemic – they hope to enter the United States soon. It will not be easy. But they already did the hard part.
In Matamoros, barely over the bridge to Mexico, I found Venezuelan families that crossed the terribly cruel and muddy Darien jungle into Panama with children in their arms. They have to be suffering the highest levels of desperation and anguish to risk doing that. But Matamoros, like Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana and all the other border cities in northern Mexico, are full of desperate people.
They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They have no papers, no money and sometimes not even shoes. I saw them sleeping exposed to the elements, in improvised tent camps near the Rio Bravo/Grande, amid mountains of garbage, flies and overflowing portable toilets. And their children, disoriented, playing in the mud and asking, “When are we getting out of here?”
There’s been a lot of talk about the new wave of migrants sparked by the end Thursday of Title 42, activated during the Trump Administration. But the truth is that the surge started in 2021, when almost 2 million people crossed the border illegally, and it grew in 2022 with more than 2.7 million people following them. This year looks to be the same. Or worse.
No recent administration – Biden, Trump or Obama – has managed to fix the chaos and improvisation along the border. Sending 1,500 troops, like Biden did, creating a CBP1 app that doesn’t work very well and lining up thousands of U.S. immigration and National Guard personnel along the border will not solve the deeper problem. It’s like throwing rocks into a river. You will never stop the water’s flow.
The reality is that the United States must come to realize that it needs to accept many more immigrants every year. And it is better to do that legally and under the correct process for refugees and asylum seekers. The United States currently receives about 1 million legal migrants each year. That number should double, at least. But the problem is that there’s no efficient system to process so many people, or the political will in Congress to do it.
That’s why we struggle with this permanent border crisis. There’s no other option.
And it’s not going to improve soon. On the contrary. Despite what Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said repeatedly – that the border is not open – what the migrants see on social networks and what they hear from relatives and friends who live in the United States is something different. Their message is that it is difficult to cross, but not impossible.
What’s more, the migrants have no other options. A big majority of them, once they left their countries, are not ready to go back They burned their bridges, sold everything they had, closed their homes and borrowed as much as they could. Fear, hunger and the drive for a better live are more powerful than any border.
The reasons that forced those migrants to leave their countries are stringer than any obstacles on the U.S.-Mexico border. If they crossed the Darien Gap, nothing seems insurmountable. Those migrants are fleeing from three dictatorships in the region – Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua – as well as horrible violence (more than 30,000 murders in Mexico last year), extreme poverty across the hemisphere sharpened by the pandemic, and the largest inequality gap of any region in the world. That’s a lot.
They calculated that to stay was to die. Little by little. And that’s why they left.
It is normal for the poorest and most vulnerable look for wealthier places where they feel secure. That happens throughout the world, and especially on the border between Mexico and the United States. And beyond the stereotypes, the United States remains very attractive. It is a magnet. Unemployment stands at barely 3.4 percent, migrants are needed for agriculture and other tough jobs and it has a long history of accepting recent arrivals – even though at first it complains and resists.
It is useless to try to close the border. It is impossible. Since the end of the 1848 war between Mexico and the United States, they have tried and failed. By its very nature that dividing line is porous, full of gaps and easy to hop over. Yes there are solutions, including an increase in legal immigration and a grand migration accord between the United States and Latin America, like the one in the European Union. But no one dares talk about that in Washington.
And so we will continue to see one border crisis after another. It’s the new normal.