Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Migrant surge at U.S. southern border (March 16, 2021)

A new surge of Latin American migrants -- including thousands of unaccompanied children -- attempting to enter the U.S. has rapidly turned into a crisis for the Biden administration. 

Teens and children pose a particular challenge for U.S. authorities, who have run out of space in shelters where minors are cared for until they can be placed with family or a sponsor in the U.S. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 4,000 children and teens are being held for longer periods of time in dangerously overcrowded Border Patrol station holding facilities and jail cells designed for adults. The situation prompted the government to deploy the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Mexican border to help care for minors, over the weekend. (Washington Post, ABC News, New York Times)

The surge "comes as the politics of immigration have only grown more polarized and contentious" in the U.S., notes CNN. Republican critics pin the increase in migration on the president's moves to unravel his predecessor's draconian migration policies. Biden supporters say the Trump administration's flawed policies are to blame for the current situation. But experts point to other relevant factors pushing migration, such as widespread economic damage caused by the pandemic and natural disasters in Central America. (Pew Research Center) Traditionally, the numbers of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. increases in the northern hemisphere's late spring.

The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended nearly 100,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, the tenth consecutive month of increased apprehensions and a return to levels last seen in mid-2019. Though single adults account for the majority of U.S.-Mexico border apprehensions in February, the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors rose dramatically from 5,694 to 9,297, or 63 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

The surge is similar to others that occurred in 2014, 2016 and 2019, but also potentially larger, because conditions in Central America and Mexico are more desperate as a result of the pandemic’s economic pain, reported the Washington Post last week.

Soon after taking office, Biden said his administration would no longer turn back minors who cross the border without their parents, a policy that the Trump administration implemented using an emergency health order. Immigrant activists and child advocates denounced that practice for denying minors the opportunity to apply for asylum in the United States while exposing them to potential risks in Mexico, reports the Washington Post.

Nonetheless, Biden also faces significant criticism from migrant advocates who say he has maintained many previous administrations' inhumane practices. 

Though Mexico has welcomed Biden’s pledge to tackle the root causes of migration from Central America, it is concerned that the new administration’s efforts to make it easier for people to claim asylum in the United States is encouraging migration and putting a burden on Mexico, reports Reuters. Mexico is struggling to deal with a new wave of migrants expelled from the U.S. while even more come north hoping to cross, reports the New York Times. Mexican officials are ill-prepared to handle the rising number of migrants, and shelters are at a breaking point.

Mexico has stepped up immigration raids – hauling hundreds of people off trains in recent weeks – in response to the increase in Central American migrants, according to advocates and data from immigration authorities. About 1,200 migrants from Central America – including more than 300 children – were swept up in raids between 25 January and 16 February.

Mexico is also holding hundreds of unaccompanied children detained by Mexican security forces before they reach the U.S. border. How (and whether) the immigration enforcement partnership between Mexico and the U.S. forged by the Trump administration -- in which Mexican authorities serve as a de facto arm of U.S. policies -- should continue is one of many questions Biden will have to answer as more children arrive in Mexico, according to the Washington Post.

News Briefs

  • Voting in Honduras' presidential primaries occurred without any major incidents on Sunday, though results are not yet available. The unusual delay in results has raised uncertainty, report El Heraldo and La Prensa.
  • Many of the names fielded by leading Honduran political parties have been linked to organized crime, highlighting potential pitfalls for the Biden administration's goal of working with Central American governments to mitigate migration, reports the Associated Press.
  • Honduras' current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is an unindicted co-conspirator in a major drug trafficking trial in the United States, raising serious doubts about future cooperation between the countries, reports InSight Crime. (See last Friday's post.)
Regional Relations
  • China is a major supplier of coronavirus vaccine, giving it a valuable diplomatic and public relations opening in pandemic-ravaged Latin American countries, like Brazil, reports the New York Times. “With the desperation in Latin America for vaccines, this creates a perfect position for the Chinese,” Evan Ellis told NYT.
  • Chinese demand has helped Brazilian beef sales rocket to record levels – but the boom comes at a high environmental cost, particularly in terms of deforestation of Brazil's Amazon and tropical savanna reports the Guardian
  • Brazil is in the deadliest chapter, so far, of its coronavirus epidemic. In the past week, the country set another record: 12,818 new deaths and more than 464,000 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University figures -- signs of a viral spread outpacing even that of the United States, the only country in the world harder hit by the pandemic in absolute numbers. (CNN)
  • Experts say the P1 variant is to blame for soaring contagion, while others believe the variant has provided a convenient smokescreen for political leaders who have failed to rein in the disease, reports the Guardian.
  • The Brazilian health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, left his job yesterday after a dismal 10-month tenure during which more than 260,000 Brazilians have been killed by Covid-19, reports the Guardian. President Jair Bolsonaro named Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, the country's fourth health minister since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters.
  • Covid-19 is causing devastating — and irreparable — loss in the Brazilian Indigenous communities, according to a report by two human rights organizations, The Observatory and Justiça Global. "We have been witnessing the end of Indigenous peoples, like, literally the last members of certain Indigenous communities are dying, and there are no successors," said Raphaela Lopes, a lawyer with Justiça Global. (NBC News)
  • A botched raid on a gang stronghold in a Port-au-Prince slum, in which at least four Haitian police officers were killed, has spurred a wave of anger and the social media hashtag #FreeHaiti. Videos showing gang members dragging the bodies of two slain cops is the latest in Haiti's worsening crisis. The anti-corruption grassroots activist group Nou Pap Dòmi sought to explain #FreeHaiti?: "There is no parliament, no elected local officials, the judiciary system is under attack, the president wants to change the constitution and hold elections while gangs control many parts of the territory. There is a surge in kidnappings at a scale never seen before." (Miami Herald)
  • Tens of thousands of Bolivians protested against the arrest and detention of former president Jeanine Áñez on charges of leading a coup d'etat against her predecessor Evo Morales, reports AFP. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Jineth Bedoya, a Colombian journalist who was kidnapped, tortured and raped while reporting on her country’s civil war, testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights yesterday. Her case which could set a precedent for thousands of survivors of sexual violence in Colombia, reports the Guardian.
  • A Venezuelan man involved in a bank robbery last week was charged with killing a police officer in Bogota, an incident which has already inflamed tensions and prejudice against Venezuelans. (Latin America Risk Report)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been quietly handing over dozens of run-down gasoline stations to local entrepreneurs who turn them into flashy retail complexes and rebrand them under a chain known as Via. It's the first phase of a desperate and complicated plan to rescue the country from U.S. sanctions, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Maduro is pressing banks to implement digital payment systems as hyperinflation prompts chronic shortages of cash in the bolivar currency, reports Reuters.
Sint Maarten
  • The Netherlands has shelled out millions of dollars' worth of emergency aid to former colonies in the Caribbean -- Sint Maarten, Aruba and Curaçao -- as the coronavirus pandemic destroyed the countries' economies. But critics say the Dutch government is using the pandemic to turn back the clock on colonial rule, with broad demands in exchange for the aid. Last week, Sint Maarten lawmakers filed a petition with a U.N. special rapporteur on racism accusing the Netherlands of “racial discrimination” and “violations of international rights.” Dutch officials say the pandemic has pulled back the curtain on years of mounting problems since autonomy was granted. (Washington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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