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2023 Political Risk review: global migrations in Latin America

London Politica 2023 -

2023 a year of multidimensional vulnerabilities for the Americas

The year 2023 is shaping up to be an important one for migration risks in the Americas. Asylum seekers, refugees, U.S. border policy, regional efforts and diplomatic frictions will all determine the outcome of the growing migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. The COVID-19 pandemic and other U.S. policy efforts to stop asylum access significantly impacted immigration numbers, policy, and enforcement in 2022. However, this has not been enough to turn the page on the multidimensional vulnerabilities and the risks migration has on the political stability of the Americas and the North American region.

Increasing diversity of asylum seekers on the US-Mexico Border

Only in 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported more than 2.2 million migrant “encounters” during the fiscal year (October 2021 to September 2022). These numbers represent an increase from 1.67 million in 2021 and only 400,000 the year before that. In the first weeks of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak (April 2020), people from Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras accounted for the vast majority of those encountered at the border. However, only in November 2022, 63% of the migrants encountered at the border were from countries other than Mexico and the Northern Triangle region. The latest numbers suggest that individuals coming from Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela account for most of the encounters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Encounters with Colombian nationals at the U.S.-Mexico border went from four in 2020 to 15,439 in 2022. The same observation can be made with encounters between CBP and migrants from Cuba, whose numbers went from 161 in 2020 to 34,639 or migrants from Nicaragua, whose encounters rose from 86 to 34,162. Overall, 2022 was a record-breaking year for migration in the Americas, mostly because of a growing tidal wave of asylum seekers and refugees constantly moving North but also because of its controversial political side effects.

Policy failure

While the numbers provide an in-depth view of the reality at the U.S.-Mexico border, the 2023 political side-effects in Latin America and U.S. policy intentions have yet to be fully grasped. In fact, many of the 2.2 20 million individual migrants are those who tried to cross multiple times after being caught and rapidly expelled back to Mexico under a COVID-era order known as Title 42. This hard-line policy, implemented under former President Donald Trump back in March 2020 suggests an increasingly urgent need to assess and address migration waves as a national security concern. However, while President Biden has tried to end the Title 42 order, efforts to reconcile the migration crisis has not been enough to close the political gap currently existing within the U.S. government. Indeed, at the beginning of 2023, Biden announced that Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans - who have also been arriving in larger numbers - will now also be expelled under Title 42. Regionally, new intents to revive soft-politics strategies to push Mexico to become a ‘safe-third country’ has created a ‘policy fog’ due to the lack of resources for the safe third countries to deal with the massive flux of migrants, the lack of regional humanitarian and security consensus and an overall reiterated lack of capacity for certain countries (such as Mexico or Guatemala) to absorb large numbers of ‘returned’ migrants.

2023 multi-pronged risks for migration policy and safety

As we move towards 2023, multidimensional vulnerabilities, increasingly interconnected protection risks and humanitarian needs are likely to continue.

  • First, increasing migration securitization will remain a pillar of many migration policies which in turn will continue policy, political and judicial controversy and polarise national security concerns. The political differences regarding the future of migration policy in the Americas will deepen the gap between the U.S.’ government and its diplomatic counterparts.

  • Second, the pursuit of Biden’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform will face many obstacles as Republicans assumed control of the House in January and a divided Congress will struggle to make any significant changes to the immigration system in the coming year, leaving thousands of individuals at the border. 21

  • Third, the controversial Title 42 policy may continue to have a lasting impact on border enforcement in 2023 due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary extension of the rule and the Biden administration continuous enforcement. New potential policies could arise from this, making it even more difficult for migrants to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Finally, diplomatic relations must become the foundation of a regionally supported strategy to tackle future migration trends. Much of the Biden’s administration’s plan will depend on Mexico agreeing to accept up to 30,000 migrants but it does not go far enough in solving the migration crisis for either country nor for other Latin American neighbours, who are completely dependent, from a migration perspective, regarding all future policy agreements made between the two countries that share a common 3,145 km border

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