Will Mexico’s Troop Deployments Help Control Migration?

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador inaugurated Mexico’s recently created National Guard last week. // Photo: Mexican Government. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador inaugurated Mexico’s recently created National Guard last week. // Photo: Mexican Government.

Mexico has deployed nearly 15,000 soldiers and National Guard troops to its northern border in an effort to stem the flow of migrants to the United States, the head of Mexico’s army said June 24. Mexico has also sent 6,500 members of its security forces to its southern border in order to prevent migrants from going north. The moves come amid pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has demanded that Mexico do more to halt migrants. How well will Mexico’s troop deployments work to reduce the flows of migrants to the United States? What effects are Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s crackdowns on transiting migrants having on his popularity? Is halting migrants a good use of Mexico’s National Guard?

Pascale Siegel, managing director, and Miyako Yerick, senior associate, both at Ankura: “Andrés Manuel López Obrador created the National Guard to combat drug cartel violence that has spiraled out of control, not to enforce immigration restrictions. However, in response to President Trump’s most recent threats, AMLO had to take drastic measures to ensure tariffs would not be imposed, as Mexico cannot afford a trade war with its largest trade partner. Moreover, Mexican citizens do not want hundreds of thousands of Central Americans in their country draining limited resources. For now, these two dynamics are affording AMLO some leeway in redirecting resources toward border enforcement. The presence of thousands of additional troops along the southern border is already slowing the flow of migrants to the United States. U.S. officials hoped for a 15-20 percent decrease in border arrests from May to June and announced on June 28 that arrests are projected to fall by 25 percent, significantly more than the historic seasonal drop of 12 percent. However, it is unlikely to work as a long-term solution. Even though AMLO has tight control over the Morena party, his approval numbers have been dropping and are likely to drop further if he is seen as sacrificing his own agenda and his citizens’ priorities to do President Trump’s bidding. At some point, AMLO needs to address the issues he ran on: reducing violence and corruption on Mexican citizens, and not the issues President Trump is currently running on.”

Todd Bensman, senior national security fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies: “With his credible threat of tariffs on Mexican exports, President Trump created an artificial yet materially real value for Mexico to use its National Guard: to avoid economic consequences that are obviously greater than deployment costs. Mexico, after all, is as pragmatic as most democracies, which don’t typically spend their own national treasure on the security of other countries unless interests are mutual. Only under this tariff threat, with its promise of economic pain for Mexico, did using Mexico’s National Guard for someone else’s problem become a real value proposition. Whether the deployment to the border with Guatemala works will be obscured, in the short term, by an annual migration slowdown that occurs every summer. Expect disagreement over which factor—the deployment or cyclical summer slowdown—is responsible. Skepticism is warranted anyway for whether the deployment will work on a 541-mile Guatemala border unaccustomed to controls. Unlike even the U.S. multi-layered defense strategies that still don’t work very well at its own southern border, the one Mexico shares with Guatemala is essentially virgin territory occupied by a professional army of smugglers incentivized to defeat the untested Mexican guard on land and sea. Mexico will need its Navy on the Pacific Ocean to combat a fleet of Panga boats, long-range reconnaissance to patrol the busy spider-vein Petén Jungle routes and a willingness to use nonlethal force such as tear gas. Mexico’s leadership also will need thick skin for staying the course amid hostile media coverage that will accompany every success and every mistake.”

Amy Glover, CEO for Mexico at Speyside Corporate Relations: “The establishment of a National Guard in Mexico has been controversial ever since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced it early in his term. The justification for its creation was to help strengthen internal security and to more ably confront organized crime. The decision to use the military to stem the flow of migrants is a dangerous gambit; already there have been casualties, and the Mexican military is not properly trained to handle this type of work. Surprisingly for a country that has sent millions of immigrants northward in the past, a recent poll by El Financiero newspaper showed that 63 percent of those polled would support closing the southern border with Guatemala. While AMLO’s popularity could potentially be hurt if the situation worsens, in the same poll 68 percent of respondents also were in favor of sending the National Guard to the southern border. The crisis in Central America is complex and will take time to solve. Families are fleeing violence caused by organized crime as well as a lack of economic opportunity. The United States and Mexico need to work together to confront what has become a full-fledged international humanitarian crisis. This crisis is affecting the lives of men, women and, most importantly, children, whose rights need to be protected. At the present time, it does not seem that proper checks have been put in place on either side of the border to avoid more suffering and to make the asylum process more efficient. President Trump has threatened to reassess the use of tariffs to punish Mexico if there is no short-term improvement in the immigration situation, but this will not solve a complex problem that requires resources and bilateral cooperation based on mutual respect.”

Douglas Juárez, regional human mobility coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean at American Friends Service Committee: “The increase of forced migration worldwide is a consequence of the capitalist, colonialist and patriarchal system, which is reconfigured by increasing authoritarianism, large-scale violence, militarization, perpetuation of structural inequalities and facilitating the free movement of capital and skilled labor, but penalizing the ‘unqualified,’ creating a narrative of ‘undesirable foreigners’ from the Global South. This facilitates multiple conditions for exploitation and cheap labor. The outsourcing and militarization of borders and ‘hotspots’ to contain and classify migrants are policies within the national security paradigm, and their failure has already been demonstrated around the world. The new Mexican National Guard is a recycling of federal security forces, without a strong process of transformation with respect to the protection of human rights. By detaining migrants, it reproduces the national security paradigm and the narrative that some of the Global South’s population are a threat. Migratory flows to the United States will reduce if the root causes of forced migration are transformed. Any containment, detention, deportation and dissuasion policy will have high financial costs, as well as cost the lives of the many who will continue taking risks to trek less-secure routes to reach their objectives. Although there are no tools to measure López Obrador’s popularity with respect to these policies, the national security approach and some racist media coverage have legitimized xenophobic actions in Mexican society. I do not think his popularity will be affected, but within civil society and social movements there is great rejection, discontent and frustration with the current federal administration.”

The Latin America Advisor features Q&A with leaders in politics, economics, and finance every business day. The publication is available to members of the Dialogue's Corporate Program and others by subscription.

Suggested Content

Advierten que México sufrirá si Trump es presidente

¿Debe México hacer campaña en Estados Unidos para que conciudadanos se registren y voten, y otra para resaltar los beneficios del TLCAN? ¿Es momento de pensar en cómo recibiremos a millones de deportados, hay que dar la pelea en tribunales internacionales de derechos humanos? ¿Llegó la hora de preparar represalias comerciales contra Estados Unidos y considerar nuevos socios en AL, Europa y Asia? Son muchas preguntas, y variadas y hasta opuestas las respuestas que dan diplomáticos, politólogos y analistas. Sólo una sola cosa es cierta: Trump es impredecible.

˙Michael Shifter