A wave, a giant one, is about to reach the border between Mexico and the United States.
On May 23rd, the U.S. government will end the so-called Title 42, which has allowed the immediate deportation of migrants who enter illegally in search of refuge or political asylum. The pandemic will no longer be an excuse for those quick deportations. And no one seems to be well prepared for what’s coming.
“The danger of further introduction, transmission or spread of Covid-19 into the United States from covered non citizens … has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health,” declared Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in announcing the end of Title 42. That was a policy inherited from the Trump Administration and taken advantage of by the Biden Administration for more than a year. But it cannot be extended or justified any longer.
In fact we’re talking about wave after wave.
How big could the new immigration wave be? It’s impossible to know. But the Homeland Security Department estimates it may hit 18,000 undocumented arrivals per day – 540,000 per month – according to The New York Times. This new wave would be on top of the 900,000 undocumented migrants who reached the United States since October, and the 1.7 million who arrived in Fiscal Year 2021.
We already know that migration is driven by two factors: something that pushes you out of your country and something that attracts you to another. The pandemic has severely impacted Latin American economies. Recovery, specially in Central America, will take a long time. And there are entire families that have made the decision to wait no more.
At the same time, those potential migrants see on the Internet and social networks that the United States is recovering rapidly – unemployment dropped to 3.6 percent in March – and that there are lots of jobs available. What’s more, with 60 million Hispanics already living in the United States, many of them have relatives, friends or acquaintances here. The web of links and interests grows and grows.
The first migrants who will try to enter the United States in May – as soon as Title 42 ends – are close by, just a few steps from the border. They crossed the border, were deported and now wait in campgrounds in Mexico under the “Remain in Mexico” program. Among them are many Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans who cannot be deported directly to their home countries because the United States do not have the best diplomatic relations with those dictatorships.
The best description of what’s coming is a tsunami. Have you seen a tsunami on television? It is not huge or spectacular waves. It’s like the ocean is rising and looking for a place to expand. It’s something unstoppable. There seems to be no obstacle that can resist it. In the same way, there seems to be no immigration system or police force that can stop thousands of migrants fleeing from violence, hunger, corruption and the terrible economic consequences of the pandemic.
I understand this is not a simple problem and that it will surely cause a new border crisis. There will be much criticism of President Joe Biden. Even though this phenomenon could hit any government. It is absurd to argue, as many Republicans do, that it’s possible to have a safe and secure border. It is not possible. It has never been and will never be. We can only hope to regulate, with some degree of efficiency, the entry of migrants. But a closed border between such a wealthy country and a developing country is a political illusion. That is practically impossible.
The late author Carlos Fuentes can still help us to understand what happens along the line that divides Mexico and the United States. He calls it “the wounded border.” In fact, for Fuentes it is not a border but “a scar.” And in 1994 he wrote this: “The wound is reopening again.”
Twenty eight years later, the wound is still open and bleeding.
The fact is that the border between Mexico and the United States was invented in 1848, after the war between the two countries, and it has always been porous, imperfect, full of holes, tensions, resentments and problems. There are families that were crossed by the border and there are parts of the United States that sound, smell and feel like parts of Mexico, from Los Angeles and San Antonio to Santa Fe and Amarillo.
The wave that’s coming may be unwanted by the U.S. government. But it is logical and will follow the historic trends of other immigration waves. It is normal for migrants to flow from poor and violent countries to others that are less so. It is reasonable for someone who is jobless, wants to give his children a better education or has a sick relative to gather everyone and head north. It’s no surprise that millions seek a better life in the only rich country in the continent they can reach by walking and crossing a river.
Despite all the pressures it will receive, Mexico should not impede the passage of migrants who want to reach the United States. That is not Mexico’s job. What an irony, that a country that has sent so many millions of Mexicans north now impedes the way for others.
This enormous immigration wave will create powerful tensions on both sides of the border. We have been warned. I just hope we rise to the challenge and treat the new arrivals with patience, generosity and solidarity. That we show we are a country of immigrants. We must treat them like we would want to be treated. They are very vulnerable, but nevertheless will become part of our future.
They come fleeing the worst. The least we can do is give them a hand.