As congressional negotiations place asylum and other legal protection pathways at risk, and as we approach a 2024 election year with migration becoming a higher priority for voters in the United States, we found it important to discuss the current moment’s complexities.
WOLA’s vice president for Programs, Maureen Meyer, former director for WOLA’s Mexico Program and co-founder of WOLA’s migration and border work, is joined by Mexico Program Director Stephanie Brewer, whose work on defense of human rights and demilitarization in Mexico has focused often on the rights of migrants, including a visit to the Arizona-Sonora border at the end of 2023.
This episode highlights some of the main migration trends and issues that we should all keep an eye on this year, including:
Deterrence efforts will never reduce migration as long as the reasons people are fleeing remain unaddressed (the long-standing “root causes” approach). Such policies will only force people into more danger and fuel organized crime. “The question is not, are people going to migrate? The question is, where, how, and with who?”, explains Brewer.
For this reason, maintaining consistent and reliable legal pathways is more important than ever, and the ongoing assaults on these pathways—including the right to seek asylum and humanitarian parole—are harmful and counterproductive.
There can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution for the variety of populations currently in movement, and the focus should no longer be on ineffective policies of deterrence and enforcement. “It’s a long term game that certainly doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker for political campaigns,” Meyer points out.
Organized crime is a huge factor in regional migration—both as a driver of migration and as a facilitator. Official corruption and impunity enable these systems, a point that migration policies often fail to address. Brewer notes that during her trip to Arizona’s southern border in December 2023, the vast majority of migrants she spoke to were Mexican, and among them, the vast majority cited violence and organized crime as the driving factor. In recent months, Mexican families have been the number one nationality coming to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum.
It is a regional issue, not just a U.S. issue, as people are seeking asylum and integration in many different countries. Mexico, for instance, received 140,000 asylum applications in 2023. This makes integration efforts extremely important: many people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border had attempted to resettle elsewhere first. “It’s a twofold of the legal status itself, but then real integration efforts that are both economic and educational, but also addressing xenophobia and not creating resentment in local communities,” explains Meyer.