Posted on June 6, 2019

Mexico Is an Asylum Free-Rider

Mark Krikorian, National Review, June 5, 2019

President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods starting next week may or may not get Mexico to be more cooperative in preventing third-country “asylum-seekers” from passing through on the way to our border. I’m not too concerned about the costs that such a tariff would impose on U.S. businesses and consumers (which would be real), because the costs would be worth it if the tactic were actually to work. {snip}

Perhaps more important than the means, however, are the desired ends. During a call with reporters last week, acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan laid out three specific steps the administration wants Mexico to take. First is tightening security on Mexico’s border with Guatemala and chokepoints in southern Mexico (such as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec). Second is targeting the smuggling organizations; as McAleenan said, “The logistical effort to move 100,000 people through a country every four weeks is immense. This is noticeable.”

Mexico might well agree to these two demands, potentially averting the tariffs. But the third demand is the most consequential, and the most difficult. As McAleenan put it, “We need to be able to protect people in the first safe country they arrive in — really, all through the hemisphere, but certainly with our partner to the south.” In other words, the administration wants Mexico to sign a “safe third country” agreement, whereby foreigners who pass through Mexico would not be permitted even to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, and Mexico would agree to take them back, because if they were genuinely fleeing persecution, they should have applied in the first safe country they reached. As Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation wrote last fall about one of the migrant caravans, “ignoring Mexico’s asylum process is prima facie evidence that a claim for asylum in the U.S. is bogus.”


(“Refugees” and “asylum-seekers” are both people who fear persecution, but in U.S. law are geographically distinct; a refugee is not yet in the country where he seeks refuge, whereas someone seeking asylum is already there, either as a visitor or an illegal alien, and is asking to stay. In other countries, the terms are often conflated, so that someone granted asylum may simply be referred to as a refugee.)

A safe-third-country agreement requires those seeking asylum to apply in the first country that’s party to the agreement, rather than forum shopping, as it were. {snip}

U.S. law specifically allows the executive branch to prevent people from applying for asylum if they can be removed to a country with which we have a safe-third-country agreement. We already have such an agreement with Canada, though it applies only to those arriving at ports of entry, not sneaking across the border.

An agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, allowing us to simply turn asylum-seekers (including those who jump the border) around, would erase the incentive that’s drawing increasingly large numbers of people to our southwestern border. {snip}

The majority of these people are no longer single men trying to sneak past the Border Patrol, but families and “unaccompanied” minors turning themselves in and applying for asylum. {snip}

This means, as one Guatemalan told McAleenan, “a child is like a passport for migration.”

And while the majority of those currently exploiting these loopholes are Central Americans, word is spreading. {snip} Bangladeshis claiming to be minors are also now showing up in large numbers to exploit these loopholes.


But as a matter of principle, the U.S. demand that Mexico sign a safe-third-country agreement is stronger than it looks. It’s not just that Mexican authorities often look the other way — or even provide assistance — as hundreds of thousands of foreigners pass through its territory on the way north. Rather, the possibility of asylum in the U.S. serves as way for Mexico to avoid the consequences of its own very expansive asylum laws.

Mexico is a signatory to the 1951 Convention (and the 1967 Protocol, which expanded the refugee treaty from just Europe to the whole world). Under that treaty, the definition of a refugee is anyone outside his country who is unwilling to return because of a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” This definition has been added to U.S. law.

In addition, though, Mexico joined a number of other Latin American countries to sign the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. That declaration significantly expands the definition of a refugee to include “persons who have fled their country because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” This standard, which has been formally incorporated into Mexican refugee law, is so broad as to extend asylum protections to hundreds of millions, potentially billions, of additional people.


Of course, Mexico has no intention whatsoever of giving asylum to millions of foreigners. But how to avoid that while maintaining its more “generous” standards for asylum — on paper — compared to the pinched and miserly U.S.? By making sure asylum seekers keep moving north, whether they’re from Central America or from farther afield and using Central America as a staging point.

Mexico’s incentive to keep people moving north is highlighted by the increase in the number of foreigners taking Mexico up on its expansive offer of asylum. The wave of bogus asylum-seekers transiting Mexico with children in tow, or paying smugglers to transport “unaccompanied” children, began to gain steam in 2013, sparked by Obama’s 2012 DACA edict, which granted work permits and Social Security numbers to young illegal aliens. {snip}

We have a bigger labor market and higher wages, obviously, but Mexico’s extremely broad grounds for asylum make it an attractive Plan B for Central Americans (and Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, Congolese, Bangladeshis, et al.) who don’t make it to the U.S. {snip}