Speaker 1: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Melissa: For more than 130 years, the Statue of Liberty has been a beacon of freedom, of hope for those coming to the US. That's in part because of these famous words from Emma Lazarus chiseled into the base of the statute.
Speaker 1: The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Melissa: Lately those seeking refuge to the US are getting a different kind of message.
Vice President Kamala Harris: I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States' Mexico border. Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.
Melissa: That was Vice President Kamala Harris speaking this week in Guatemala, on her first foreign trip since taking office. She also visited Mexico, and in both countries, Harris emphasized the administration's focus on addressing the root causes of migration to the US-Mexico border. In recent months, there's been a record number of migrants coming from Central American countries, like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, hoping to get asylum, fleeing violence and corruption. In April alone, authorities arrested or detained more than 170,000 migrants at the border. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry in for Tanzina Vega. A check-in on the Biden-Harris administration's approach to immigration is where we start on The Takeaway today.
Speaker 1: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
Melissa: With us now is Ariel Ruiz Soto, who is a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Ariel, welcome back to the show.
Ariel: Thank you for having me.
Melissa: What is the significance of Vice President Harris's trip to Mexico and Guatemala?
Ariel: Well, first of all, I think it signifies that there's going to be a different US approach to the region. One that's focused on corresponsibility and really seeing the capacities of these governments to have a larger role in migration management. Meaning, not just immigration control efforts, but also thinking about humanitarian pathways, legal employment opportunities to come to United States or to Mexico in that scenario, and to understand and coordinate development easier and more effectively going forward. Of course, two visits are not going to change things overnight, but they do point to a good direction in understanding how to change the dynamics and how to make sure that the governments can do more and should do more in their own neighborhood.
Melissa: It feels like there's been a lot of mixed responses to the Vice President's trip here on this side of the border. One aspect of critique has been that she did not actually go to the border, but rather to the interiors of the country. Can you talk to me a little bit about maybe why that choice was made?
Ariel: Sure. For us at the Migration Policy Institute, it's been clear that what's really happening at the US-Mexico border is really a symptom of a regional crisis. That crisis has to do with the root causes of migration, but also with more systemic factors that have led for years now for more Central Americans to leave the region. I think here that the focus on the countries of origin is really important in addressing what can be the solutions. Of course, that does not mean that there shouldn't be a visit to the US-Mexico border because the visit to the border would actually allow the Vice-President's team and others here in the United States to understand the different changing dynamics in the composition, but also the changing adaptations of smuggling networks as we continue to see this pandemic response through Title 42.
The focus here, I think, is the idea that to really get to the root of this issue, more has to be done to leverage the US assistance and influence in the region so that the governments of Guatemala Mexico, and in the future El Salvador and Honduras, do more to make sure that this is a shared issue. For us at MPI, when we think about the region, we think from Canada to Panama and try to understand what each of these countries can do to have a shared problem with shared solutions. I think that's something certainly for the future to be considered to go to the border. At this time looking at what's happening in the region, I think, is the right approach.
Melissa: I want to go back for just a moment to something you mentioned there, and that's Title 42, which is something imposed by the Trump administration. It preexisted, but it was really used by the Trump administration during the beginnings of the COVID-19 crisis, really to turn away migrants seeking asylum at the border. It's something that the Biden administration has gotten a bit of critique on continuing. Can you talk to me about what the status of Title 42 is right now?
Ariel: Sure. Title 42 has been in effect now for, I think, over a year, and it focuses on expelling migrants quickly at the border once they're apprehended by the US authorities. That actually in some ways has misrepresented and triggered additional attempts to cross the border. What I mean by this is that under Title 42, a migrant who's apprehended say from Mexico, is quickly sent back Mexico after being apprehended, and they do not face any significant consequences delivery systems. Meaning that they are not put into processing for trying to enter the country illegally.
That type of consequences delivery was different before Title 42, where people would actually face consequences for being able to come back again. Essentially what we're doing is we're returning people back to their country of origin and Mexico in this case. In some ways that allows migrants to make multiple attempts to enter. The figures that we've seen, certainly, in some cases, double or triple counts of migrants. What I think it's important here too to understand is that Title 42 is based largely on justifications about the COVID situation, both in the United States and in Mexico. It's going to be at some point not sustainable for the United States to continue to do this as conditions continue to improve in the US but also Mexico.
What happens afterward, I think will be really important. What type of system and cooperation the United States has with Mexico, I think, will be significantly important. I see this visit of the vice President to Mexico as a strong component to lay the foundation for a technical strategy that really sets up for a better collaboration. In reality, Title 42 has really in some ways allowed more migration attempts to the United States. In some ways, I think that's going to have to be changed. Of course, the fact that this program started under the Trump administration has also made this more politically difficult to navigate, but when it comes to policy, we'll see what happens after that.
Melissa: When you're talking about laying the foundation for that relationship between these nations, what do you hear and what do you suspect these nations hear with the discourse of don't come? Maybe importantly also, what are migrants hearing? What does that message mean? What is it meant to convey?
Ariel: Well, that's a great point. The messaging that the Vice President suggested in Central America, but also the Biden administration more largely in the past has provided, is not only intended for the target of would-be migrants themselves, but also for the governments there. The United States is trying to provide some leadership and examples to the region of what their posture is going to be so that the other countries can also respond to us.
Now, the messaging here is critical. Messaging matters a lot, and language matters a lot. What we saw with the Vice President's visit in repeating for migrants not to come to the United States, I think is an incomplete message as it did not focus on how migrants could come legally to the United States if they wanted to. What we need in this approach I think, and going forward is to understand that for messaging to be effective, we also have to provide alternative avenues for migrants to know that they could come to United States if they have significant protection concerns, or if they're willing to come, for example, to work under Visa program.
Of course, these issues are something that the United States still has to work through, and more has to be done to restart the US asylum system. Until we do that messaging to include not only this ask for them not to come irregularly, but to also try to come through legal channels, I think we won't really be getting to the root of the issue with the migrants, and the message will not be as effective.
Melissa: Can you help us to understand the different flows that may be occurring around migration primarily for economic reasons, which you've hinted at there around the work Visa possibilities versus migration that is really about refugee status? What does our current framework say about that capacity to enter the country through a legal means in one of those two ways?
Ariel: The US protection or asylum system is really focused on protection. It's focused on people who are fleeing persecution on a particularly narrow set of guidelines. I think those guidelines are what we need to talk about and to think about finding complementary protection, for example, like Mexico does. That allows a broader range of people who are fleeing generalized violence, internal conflict or other significant measures to be eligible for some type of protection. Right now, our categories are quite narrow and that's something that we should talk about. In terms of the larger aspect here of what, for example, others can do including Mexico here, is to try to understand what type of capacity needs does Mexico have, Canada, Costa Rica, others so that these migrants can have a way to go there.
Now, it's important to distinguish that motivations for why people flee or come to the United States and coming from Center American countries are quite different, and different not only across the countries but within the countries. In Guatemala, for example, economics and really income-related motivations for migration are the majority of what we hear migrants suggest. In Honduras, political instability and corruption are higher up in the list but also economic conditions. El Salvador has transitioned from being a root cause motivating factor of predominantly violence and insecurity to one now also of economic opportunity.
Economic opportunity here is the factor that weaves through the three countries. Until we actually provide more avenues for people who can come to United States and return to the countries for employment, I think, we're going to continue to see some migrants whose only recourse is to try to seek asylum for them to enter the United States for employment and for other reasons.
Melissa: It certainly seems that President Biden having learned from his two terms as Vice President Biden and the ways that the Obama administration was understood as the deporters in chief has taken a different tact here. Deportations are actually at a record low even though detention is still quite high. I'm wondering, just from the political calculus, what you think Biden would call a win on the question of migration and immigration at the border.
Ariel: It's a work in progress but at least a short-term win could be the change in composition of those migrants that do come to United States in reducing the apprehensions of family and children to the United States. I think that could be a realistic expectation for the United States to achieve, and going forward, its partners to focus on reducing that type of migration, again, by providing not only enforcement controls but really opportunities for humanitarian protections. If we focus on those vulnerable groups, I think we can make some changes in the composition of migration going forward.
Melissa: Ariel Ruiz Soto is a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Ariel: Thank you.
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