August 31, 2022

Beyond the L.A. Declaration on Migration and Development

Developing Permanent U.S. and Hemispheric Protocols for the Western Hemisphere’s Migration Challenge

By Cristobal Ramón

Introduction

Over the last decade, the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere have encountered an evolving set of irregular migration events. During these events, a large number of individuals left their home countries for other destinations (such as the United States). Similar migration events occurred in the latter half of the 20th century in response to Cold War–era civil wars, political instability, and lack of economic opportunities. However, recent events impact a broader geographic range as new and historic push factors prompt a large, diverse group of individuals to migrate. Additional large-scale irregular migration events prompted by climate and other environmental changes are expected in the near future.

The United States and other Western Hemisphere countries are collaborating on a migration management strategy that addresses the increasing frequency and scale of irregular migration events stemming from a broader range of factors (like climate change). This strategy uses legal pathways, protocols to process humanitarian migrants closer to their homes, and the promotion of law enforcement cooperation on targeting smugglers to provide potential migrants with stable, viable alternatives to irregular routes. In addition to the Biden administration’s February 2021 executive order incorporating this concept into U.S. immigration policy, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection (L.A. Declaration) that debuted at the ninth Summit of the Americas in June 2022 serves as the prominent model for this approach. By signing the L.A. Declaration, 21 countries have voluntarily committed to implementing measures that fall under policies for managing irregular immigration. Specific tools include expanding capacities to process affected immigrants and legal pathways that serve as alternate routes to irregular migration. While an important step in addressing current migration realities, the L.A. Declaration lacks a framework to convene states at regular intervals to assess and adapt to future migration events.

The United States and other Western Hemisphere countries are collaborating on a migration management strategy that addresses the increasing frequency and scale of irregular migration events stemming from a broader range of factors.

This report proposes two intersecting sets of recommendations for the United States and for L.A. Declaration signatories that address the weaknesses in these policies. First, the signatories should establish “The Los Angeles Process” (L.A. Process)—a permanent set of annual or biannual ministerial meetings that allow for changing existing commitments to this document and the document’s policies based on changes in migration trends to prepare for future migration. Second, the United States should establish a permanent and independent Hemispheric Migration Engagement Task Force that pulls in technical experts from executive agencies, such as the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to formally plan, implement, and assess the country’s work with other countries in the hemisphere to manage migration. Although these frameworks will require significant time and fiscal investments to negotiate and implement, they ensure the L.A. Declaration is a living document that can keep pace with the state of human mobility across the hemisphere in the 21st century.

This report discusses how large-scale events involving the movement of irregular migrants have gradually impacted more countries across the hemisphere. The September 2021 Haitian migration crisis in Del Río, Texas, serves as a case study for common challenges facing the hemisphere. It will then assess how the United States and countries in the hemisphere have sought to develop a coordinated response to these hemisphere-wide migration events. This section of the report notes the strengths and weaknesses in the L.A. Declaration and the Biden administration’s efforts to make coordination with other countries in the hemisphere a core component of U.S. immigration policy. Next, the report outlines policy recommendations that address the weaknesses in the L.A. Declaration and the Biden administration’s hemispheric migration measures. Finally, it concludes with an assessment of the prospects for these two proposals as the United States explores new avenues for coordinated migration responses with countries (such as Mexico) following the introduction of the L.A Declaration.

The Evolving Scope and Scale of the Hemisphere’s Migration Challenges

Large-scale migration events that have challenged the United States and other countries in the region are not a recent phenomenon. These events and their push factors reach back to the latter half of the 20th century, with some factors remaining constant and others changing as the Cold War ended. As a result of the hemisphere’s civil wars, which emerged as one of the final fronts of the Cold War, and the government repression contributing to their growth, individuals from Central America (e.g., El Salvador) and South America (e.g., Colombia) sought protection in the United States and other nearby countries. Political instability and repression in Cuba and Haiti generated another set of humanitarian migration events as individuals fled on boats to reach the United States and other destinations. Finally, factors like the lack of economic opportunities prompted Mexican nationals to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in significant numbers between the 1980s and early 2000s in search of work. Human smugglers enabled many of these movements, albeit with the technological limitations that existed throughout this period.

Although similarities exist with historic events, the driving factors for new migration events challenge the entire hemisphere. A lack of economic opportunities leads to individuals seeking work outside their home country. In the post–Cold War landscape, government corruption, democratic backsliding, state-backed repression, and gang violence undermined human security across the hemisphere. Thus, more groups—especially families with children—are taking riskier, longer routes to find protection. Finally, advanced technology in personal communication and financial transactions enable human smugglers to move more people across the hemisphere in a shorter time, creating quicker migrant flow changes. Consequently, government entities handled earlier migration events at the individual or small groupings of states level. Now they face rapidly shifting events that stretch the hemisphere as more people leave their home countries in response to climate-related factors.

From Santiago to Del Río: Haitian Migration as a Case Study of Recent Migration Events

The Haitian migration crisis in Del Río, Texas, in September 2021 is a strong example of how migration events encapsulate the whole hemisphere. Many Haitian migrants arriving to the U.S.-Mexico border were traveling from other regional South American countries (such as Chile and Brazil) where they sought security after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. However, the loss of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and policies that prevented these individuals from finding work in these countries generated push factors for migrating to the United States. The U.S. decision to place Haitians detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in removal proceedings, which allows individuals to enter the United States as their removal case travels through the immigration court system, instead of the Title 42 program, which immediately expels migrants to their country of origin, prompted some Haitians to use WhatsApp and other technology to notify their friends and families about the possibility of entering the country. The combination of these factors prompted significant numbers of Haitians in South America to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border during the summer of 2021.

Although similarities exist with historic events, the driving factors for new migration events challenge the entire hemisphere.

A comparison of data from the Mexican, Panamanian, and U.S. governments provides a clear picture of the development of this hemisphere-wide migration event. The data in Figure 1 shows irregular immigration between the Colombian and Panamanian border, apprehensions and returns of migrants by Mexican authorities, and unique encounters, such as instances where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended or expelled non-repeat border crossers at the U.S.-Mexico border. The numbers for each of these data sources increased between June 2021 and September 2021, especially as irregular crossings from Colombia into Panama correlated with an increase in Mexican government apprehensions and returns.

Figure 1: Data Tracking Movement of Migrants between the Colombian-Panamanian Border and U.S.-Mexico Border (January to December 2021)

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mexican Secretariat for Home Affairs, Migration Panama.

After the United States and Mexico began cracking down on Haitian arrivals—with Mexico detaining and returning more individuals than the United States between April 2021 and September 2021 and the U.S. detaining more individuals at the U.S.-Mexico border after October 2021—the number of irregular crossings between the Panamanian and Colombian border began to decrease at the end of 2021. The drop in these irregular crossings suggests that the number of individuals willing to make this journey decreased after the initial set of arrivals reached and were expelled at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The data on the Haitian nationals tracked provides even greater clarity on these trends. As Figure 2 shows, the number of Haitians and nationalities with significant numbers of children born to Haitian parents (namely, from Brazil and Chile) significantly increased between June and October 2021. At the same time, the apprehensions and returns of individuals from these three countries by Mexican authorities increased between June and September 21, before declining for the rest of the 2021 calendar year as irregular border crossings by these groups declined in Panama. In contrast, the United States recorded 573,000 expulsions of Haitians in September 2021 (see Figure 3), largely in response to the Del Río crisis. Although this number decreased in the following months, it expanded in December 2021 as more Haitians who had already crossed into Mexico over the last calendar year attempted to enter the United States.

Figure 2: Data Tracking Movement of Migrants between the Colombian-Panamanian Border and Mexico (January to December 2021)

Source: Mexican Secretariat for Home Affairs, Migration Panama.

Figure 3: U.S. CBP Apprehensions and Expulsions of Haitian Nationals (January 2021 to December 2021)

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In addition to showing that migration events can encompass the entire hemisphere, the Haitian example also demonstrates how these events implicate a broader range of countries. As Figure 4 shows, different countries emerged as sending, transit, transit and receiving, and receiving countries as Haitians traveled north from South America to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Figure 4: Distribution and Categories of Impacted Countries for Haitian Migration Event

Sending CountryTransit CountryTransit/Receiving CountryReceiving Country
Brazil, ChileColombia, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, GuatemalaMexicoThe United States

The event highlights that countries such as Mexico have emerged as a receiving and transit country in recent years, resulting in complex repercussions from policy challenges. For instance, the Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (COMAR), the Mexican asylum agency, received 51,153 applications from Haitians in 2021, a 765 percent increase from 2020 when the agency received only 5,917 applications from this group. Other migration events have led to multiple policy challenges depending on the state’s interaction with migrant flows. The exodus of Venezuelans from their country has led to Colombia and other countries serving as transit and receiving states, especially once these nationals began traveling through Central America to reach the U.S.-Mexico border after Mexico intentionally cut off their air route to that border by eliminating visa-free travel for Venezuela.

The scale and scope of the Haitian migration event—one of several that has emerged in the hemisphere in recent years and impacted its countries in different ways—demonstrates the need for a coordinated response. These events supersede the ability of individual states and, potentially, the abilities of bilateral agreements, to adequately respond to complex needs. This is particularly true when events rapidly evolve or change completely as migrant flows emerge and subside throughout the year. The next section discusses proposal components for developing a hemispheric migration management system that can help the United States and other governments manage these new migration events and assess the Biden administration’s efforts to implement these measures. Regional governments are taking steps to implement these measures, albeit in piecemeal fashion that require more comprehensive frameworks to oversee policymaking and planning on coordinated responses to migration in the hemisphere.

U.S. and Latin American Efforts to Develop a Coordinated Hemispheric Migration Strategy

Over the last 40 years, U.S. immigration policy has largely revolved around the concept of deterrence, which aimed to stop all forms of irregular immigration into the United States. The Clinton administration’s 1994 Prevention Through Deterrence policy formalized this approach as the core plank of its border strategy. However, deterrence stems back to the early 1980s when the United States intercepted and returned rafts with Haitian migrants back to Haiti despite the 1980 Refugee Act passed by Congress to create formal channels for individuals seeking protection at U.S. borders. Following the 2018 and 2019 migration events, several organizations proposed measures to establish a coordinated hemispheric management policy across the region.

The scale and scope of the Haitian migration event—one of several that has emerged in the hemisphere in recent years and impacted its countries in different ways—demonstrates the need for a coordinated response.

Although President Biden largely campaigned on overturning the immigration policies President Donald Trump adopted, his administration has pursued policies that contained many of the elements of these proposals. The administration has made uneven strides in establishing these proposals, especially while struggling to control the emergence of migration events like those discussed earlier. While the countries in the hemisphere have also established a range of different bodies, frameworks, and agreements that promote or contain elements of this approach, none of these efforts have emerged as a true policymaking body to coordinate policy responses to the current set of migration events.

The Components of a Hemispheric Migration Management System

A common definition of a hemispheric migration management system does not exist. However, a body of policy proposals emerged between 2019 and 2022 in response to the 2018 and 2019 migration events that impacted Central America, Mexico, and the United States. These policies define the broad parameters of U.S. strategy and include the following:

  1. U.S. immigration policy now incorporates foreign and domestic policy that requires coordination with regional countries, especially Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico that have become major sending, transit, and receiving countries.
  2. Rather than emphasizing a deterrence-only approach, this coordination should use both positive and negative incentives to ensure irregular immigrants travel to receiving countries through stable legal pathways.
  3. In the case of humanitarian migrants, coordination should ensure receiving countries have the capacity to process a large number of cases during extraordinary migration events and develop protocols for providing services and facilities to receive vulnerable populations. Processing migrants as close as possible to their homes is another component of these proposals.
  4. Strategies should include legal pathways (such as temporary work programs) to create stable, legal routes for irregular immigrants coming from Central America and other regions, especially for individuals who may not qualify for humanitarian protection.
  5. Although proposals vary the extent to which enforcement to deter irregular immigration plays in hemispheric coordination plans, most of these plans call for law enforcement cooperation against human smugglers that facilitate irregular migration. Some also call for ensuring cooperation targets legitimate cross-border threats to the region’s national security, such as cartels and gangs.
  6. There is a need for root cause strategies where development aid addresses the corruption, lack of economic opportunity, and violence that drive migration. However, these plans largely recognize that root cause strategies will not produce any near- to medium-term impact on immigration, meaning the region must have a near- to long-term plan to manage irregular migration.

Although this model emerged in recent years, elements of these proposals have appeared in U.S. immigration and foreign policy since 2001. In 2001, President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox started discussions to adopt a bilateral plan to address the large number of Mexican nationals entering the United States through irregular routes. Although the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks derailed these talks, the tentative plan would have created a temporary worker program that matched Mexican nationals with U.S. employers needing workers. The Obama administration’s Central American Minors program, which allowed certain migrant children with family in the United States to apply for asylum from their home countries, remains one of the most prominent examples of in-region processing of humanitarian migrants.

While these agreements do contain elements of regional cooperation, their effort to remove migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to deter their arrival—accomplished through threats in Mexico’s case—is a marked contrast from the migration management approach.

The Trump administration’s immigration policy presented a series of contrasts, where it worked with countries in the region to adopt some elements of a migration management approach, while primarily relying on these relationships to deter the arrival of irregular immigrants. The administration signed agreements with the Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran governments that would have encouraged recruitment of seasonal workers from these countries, although it is unclear if the governments implemented these agreements.

Conversely, the administration used the threat of tariffs on Mexican imports to force Mexico to sign a June 2019 agreement that expanded the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Also known as “Remain in Mexico,” the MPP required migrants who sought asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to remain in Mexico for the adjudication of their asylum cases. The agreement also made the Mexican government expand enforcement actions against migrants at its southern border and deepen U.S.-Mexican efforts to tackle smuggling operations. The administration also signed the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in late summer and early fall 2019 that sent migrants back to these countries to seek asylum if they traveled through their territories to reach the U.S. border. While these agreements do contain elements of regional cooperation, their effort to remove migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to deter their arrival—accomplished through threats in Mexico’s case—is a marked contrast from the migration management approach.

States in the rest of the hemisphere have also explored different mechanisms to initiate a common approach to migration policy. In some instances, the hemisphere’s states have created bodies that discuss best approaches to immigration policy as individual states and as a region. In other instances, the hemisphere has established bodies that oversee responses to individual migration events or have fully integrated elements of their signatory state’s immigration systems. Figure 5 shows examples of these different bodies, frameworks, and customs unions.

Figure 5: Examples of Regional Bodies and Policies to Coordinate Migration Policy

CategoryExamples
Regional Bodies for Discussing Migration Issues• The Regional Conference on Migration (CRM), founded in 1996, discusses common immigration challenges facing its members in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
• The South American Conference on Migration (CSM), founded in 1996, echoes the CRM’s mission in South American countries.
• The Committee on Migration Issues in the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Council for Integral Development addresses immigration issues impacting OAS states through best practice sharing and varying levels of coordination.
Regional Efforts on Coordinating Responses to Migration Events• The Quito Process framework coordinates the response from 13 South American countries to the Venezuelan refugee crisis that emerged after the country’s political and economic crisis began driving large numbers of Venezuelans to neighboring countries.
Agreements or Customs Unions with Integration of Migration Capacities• The Central America-4 Border Control Agreement was signed in 2006 and allows nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to have free movement across borders between these states.
• The Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) is a South American customs union that requires members to grant their citizens the right to free movement, residence, and employment in the union (new members must adopt this requirement before joining).

Source: Central America-4 Border Control Agreement, Organization of American States, Quito Process, Regional Conference on Migration, South American Conference on Migration, Southern Common Market.

The Quito Process stands out as a model for cooperation on managing a migration event. During the initiative’s first meeting in September 2018, 13 signatory countries signed the “Quito Declaration on Human Mobility of Venezuelan Citizens in the Region,” an 18-point document that outlined voluntary measures that its signatories can adopt within the parameters of their immigration systems to improve the reception of Venezuelan migrants. Since its inception, the signatories have grown to 13 and held eight technical meetings (Quito I through VIII) that issued joint declarations outlining policy directions that address shifts in the crisis, with the group meeting for Quito VIII on June 30 and July 1, 2022.

These meetings have led to some signatories adopting concrete measures such as accepting expired travel documents to make it easier for Venezuelans to enter neighboring countries. Despite its strengths, human rights groups have critiqued the framework’s policymaking process, noting that its members have not made full-fledged commitments to promoting the rights of migrants and their mobility in the region. More pertinently, the Quito Process only focuses on the Venezuelan crisis, leaving a significant gap in the hemisphere’s ability to address current and future migration events outside the framework’s scope.

The Biden Administration’s Efforts to Create a Hemisphere-Wide Migration Policy

The Biden administration’s immigration policy has marked the first major U.S. effort to make a comprehensive migration coordination strategy a reality. In February 2021, it issued a set of immigration policy executive actions, including the “Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border,” which focused on addressing the root causes of migration, developing a regional approach to managing migration, and strengthening the U.S. asylum system.

The Biden administration’s immigration policy has marked the first major U.S. effort to make a comprehensive migration coordination strategy a reality.

The order’s Collaborative Management Strategy focused on implementing this approach in U.S. immigration policy. As Figure 6 shows, the strategy primarily aims to expand the number of humanitarian and legal pathways, such as work-based programs. The inclusion of alternative pathways as a part of the core goals for this component of the strategy marked an important development in addressing irregular immigration because it recognized that governments needed to offer these routes for irregular migrants to access if they do not qualify for humanitarian protection. Finally, the strategy outlines the processes the United States would take to develop the tools to meet these goals, including meeting with regional governments (such as Mexico) and civil society groups.

Figure 6: Collaborative Management Strategy in Regional Migration Executive Order

StrategyCollaborative Management Strategy
Goals• Support programs and infrastructure to enable access to protection and other lawful immigration avenues as close to the migrants’ homes as possible.
Mechanisms• Expand pathways to finding stability and safety in countries in the region through asylum and refugee resettlement and labor and other non-protection-related programs.
Components• Consult with a range of actors, including Mexico and other regional governments to:
» Strengthen asylum systems and resettlement capacities of receiving countries in the region (e.g., providing funding, training, support).
» Develop internal relocation and integration programs for internally displaced people (IDPs) as well as return and reintegration programs for returnees in relevant countries of the region.
» Boost humanitarian assistance, such as expanding shelter networks to support individuals seeking protection in other countries in the region.

Source: The White House.

The White House has made some progress toward implementing the Collaborative Management Strategy’s goals. In April 2022, the White House published an update on the implementation of the strategy that outlines a broad range of actions the United States took to reach these goals. As Appendix A shows, these steps involved the State Department providing funding to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and UNICEF to boost the capacity of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to assist with managing irregular immigration, mostly through smaller programs that ran for limited periods of time, trained small numbers of officials, or impacted a small number of individuals. The Biden administration also set aside 6,000 cap-exempt H-2B nonagricultural temporary work visas for individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in 2021, and 11,500 cap-exempt visas for these countries and Haiti in 2022.

Finally, the United States and Colombia co-hosted a ministerial meeting in Bogotá in October 2021 on the causes and challenges of irregular migration, which produced a joint declaration signed by 17 countries on the need to adopt a coordinated approach to immigration. This meeting emphasized solidarity among the signatories, respecting the rights of migrants in their policies, and tackling human smuggling. The United States and Panama co-hosted another ministerial meeting in Panama City in April 2022 to continue pursuing this approach to address common challenges around migration.

In addition to initiating a hemispheric migration management strategy, the L.A. Declaration included new policies for a coordinated response to migration.

Although these measures mark positive steps in tackling migration with other countries and international organizations, they fall short of the executive order’s vision for U.S. immigration policy. First, the piecemeal nature of the policies cited are a constellation of individual efforts that directly or indirectly receive funding or assistance from the United States and that fail to develop the beginning stages of a policy planning process to anticipate and guide responses to migration events. The Haitian case study shows the plan’s scope has not adjusted to the rapidly changing migratory movements to the U.S.-Mexico border or the reality that migration is a hemispheric challenge that impacts significantly more countries. Finally, the October 2021 Joint Declaration is a body of principles for developing policy responses, not a document that establishes a policymaking process that would allow the 17 signatories to create policies in response to their common migration challenges.

The administration made more progress in establishing the potential foundations of a hemispheric migration strategy at the ninth Summit of the Americas that it hosted in Los Angeles in June 2022. The summit, which marked the first time immigration served as part of its agenda since its inception in 1994, ended with a group of 20 countries signing the L.A. Declaration. This declaration included a set of principles, policy objectives, and deliverables to address the challenge of managing irregular migration through a coordinated response.

As Appendix B shows, the L.A. Declaration revolves around four core pillars of policies that seek to improve the management of migration events through measures that encapsulate the core components of a hemispheric system. The pillars aim to strengthen the capacity of countries whose roles involve serving as receiving and transit countries to process and integrate new arrivals, expanding legal and humanitarian pathways, promoting humane border enforcement and management of arrivals, and establishing the foundations of an early warning system.

In addition to initiating a hemispheric migration management strategy, the L.A. Declaration included new policies for a coordinated response to migration. This document marks the first major attempt to make immigration policy a cross-hemispheric issue, which opens the door to establishing more opportunities for coordination. Furthermore, some signatories announced new policies that clearly demonstrated their ability to use the L.A. Declaration to propel new supporting measures. For example, Mexico launched a new temporary labor program for Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran migrants, which is a major turning point for a country that had the potential to emerge as a major destination for migrants seeking stable economic opportunities.

These proposed measures—namely U.S. investments in migrant receiving countries, new policies to create incentives for fair recruitment of Central American migrants, and participation in joint sting operations to target smugglers—are an important step in adopting an effective, nimble U.S. migration policy to manage migration to the U.S.-Mexico border. However, the L.A. Declaration contains some of the same shortcomings as the implementation of the Collaborative Management Strategy. First, the United States was the primary driver of the new policies, especially in the pillar dedicated to humane border enforcement where no other state made commitments to address immigration enforcement issues or improve the processing of irregular migrants at their borders. More importantly, the document does not outline mechanisms to assess the implementation of these deliverables and develop new policies in the L.A. Declaration’s current set of pillars or create new pillars covering policy areas in response to current and future needs to manage irregular immigration and other migration challenges.

As an example, Colombia’s commitment to regularizing Venezuelans, and Canada receiving more migrants through its Temporary Foreign Worker Program were measures in place when they signed the L.A. Declaration. While creating a European Union–type body to direct migration policy in the Western Hemisphere overnight is not feasible, the L.A. Declaration does not allow signatories to prepare for the dynamic changes that occur with migration across the hemisphere. This oversight leaves countries vulnerable to reliance on reactionary deterrence measures that are not long-term solutions.

Policy Recommendations for Establishing the Institutional Frameworks for a Hemispheric Migration Strategy

The L.A. Declaration and the Collaborative Management Strategy mark an important step toward developing a hemispheric response to migration. In addition to outlining strong principles for cooperation, both documents have established policy channels where states can voluntarily “plug in” their measures to support their goals. However, these documents do not establish convenings or institutions to develop responses to nascent migration events. Given that migration in the hemisphere can change throughout the year, the United States and other states need these convenings and institutions to develop responses to population shifts, a goal that a potentially one-off document like the L.A. Declaration cannot fulfill. This section provides proposals for the United States and its partners to address this gap in existing measures to establish a coordinated response, namely establishing protocols and institutions to support a coordinated migration management strategy across the hemisphere.

Create the L.A. Process to Boost the L.A. Declaration’s Ability to Address New Hemispheric Migration Challenges

The signatory countries of the L.A. Declaration should take a page from the Quito Process and establish the “Los Angeles Process,” a permanent set of annual or biannual ministerial meetings that would strengthen their response to new migration events in three ways. First, the ministerial meetings should serve as the main venue for signatory states and international organizations to adjust existing commitments to the L.A. Declaration. During these meetings, each state and international organization would provide an assessment of their voluntary commitments to implement existing policy pillars, including whether the country will continue these policies until the next ministerial meeting based on current capacity. These actors could also use the meetings to announce new commitments to the pillars, including a roadmap for implementing these measures. Countries and international organizations that decide to stop supporting the L.A. Declaration can work with the other signatory states during these meetings to find alternate arrangements to continue meeting these commitments if they were critical to implementation. Finally, the meetings should allow new signatory states and international organizations, which can sign the L.A. Declaration at any time, to outline the policies they will pursue to implement the pillars.

The L.A. Process should also allow states to call for emergency sessions to respond to migration crises between ministerial meetings that need immediate action.

The ministerial meetings of the L.A. Process should also allow signatory countries and international organizations to change the pillars of the L.A. Declaration based on current needs to manage migration. First, ministerial technical experts and international organization staff should be the primary actors who determine whether to add, modify, or remove pillars based on their assessment of data on emerging migration trends and whether the existing pillars and the policies that fall under their auspices can address new types of migration events. The ministerial meetings can also allow the signatory states to work with international organizations to establish temporary pillars that address near- to medium-term challenges, such as temporary displacements of individuals in one or more countries due to human conflicts or natural disasters. Finally, the process to change existing pillars and create new ones should ensure member states can freely adopt measures without contravening the parameters of their immigration laws and systems and international human rights law.

The L.A. Process should also allow states to call for emergency sessions to respond to migration crises between ministerial meetings that need immediate action. In addition to seeing whether the signatory states and international organizations can add new short-term commitments to the L.A. Declaration or make short-term adjustments to existing pillars, the emergency ministerial sessions can incorporate the existing responses into a short-term pillar dedicated to this specific migration event. If the migration continues to impact the member states at the next ministerial meeting, the signatory countries and international organizations involved in the emergency response can change, expand, or narrow their commitments to the short-term emergency pillar. Although the signatory states have not populated the L.A. Declaration’s pillar on coordinated emergency response to migration events to date, this pillar and the measures that fall under it would likely guide the protocols of the L.A. Process’ emergency sessions and provide policies that the signatory states and international organizations can use to manage these migration events.

Finally, the signatory countries should examine three operational areas that would strengthen the ability to oversee migration issues in the hemisphere. First, they should discuss how they will fund the L.A. Process, including whether states should provide this funding based on their budgetary capacities and whether they should directly fund the L.A. Process or provide this support through international organizations like the IOM and UNHCR. Second, the signatory states should work with international organizations such as UNHCR and the IOM to create a dedicated team housed within one of these international organizations or hemispheric groups like the Organization of American States (OAS) that can track, gather, and analyze data about migrant flows to help the signatory states develop their policy responses during ministerial meetings and between sessions. Finally, the signatory states and international organizations should examine whether to maintain a staff of technical experts that can aid signatory states in implementing policies that emerge from the L.A. Process’ emergency sessions on an ad hoc basis.

The L.A. Process would fill important gaps in coordinating migration. In contrast to the dialogue-focused groups like the Regional Conference on Migration (CRM), the L.A. Process would build on the Quito Process’ progress by turning the L.A. Declaration into a living document that allows signatory states to coordinate new responses to diverse forms of migration challenges through a voluntary process that is easier to implement than a formal political union like the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). The efforts to create funding structures, a data analysis team, and an ad hoc support team for migration emergencies can support the L.A. Process’ creation by establishing institutions that can help promote consistent policymaking and responses between the L.A. Process’ ministerial meetings. While these measures will not rival the coordination over irregular migration events seen in other global bodies, such as the European Union, establishing the L.A. Process will ensure that the L.A. Declaration can help the Americas make significant gains in addressing common migration challenges.

Establish the U.S. Hemispheric Migration Engagement Task Force to Ensure the United States Can Support the L.A. Process

The United States can support the L.A. Process by creating the Hemispheric Migration Engagement Task Force. This permanent interagency body would oversee the process of working with external partners to help develop hemispheric migration approaches, the implementation of these measures, and planning U.S. and hemispheric measures to respond to new migration events. The task force, which would have non-political staff overseeing its operation who report to the National Security Council, would include experts from a permanent group of affiliated agencies, as well as ones the task force would consult with on an ad hoc basis on security issues (see Figure 7).

Figure 7: Key Federal Agencies for U.S. Hemispheric Migration Engagement Task Force

Status within Task ForceKey Agencies
Permanent Members• The State Department's Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees
• The State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
• The Office of International Engagement in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans
• The Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services
• U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Ad Hoc Members on Security Issues• The Central Intelligence Agency
• The Department of Defense
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation

The task force would have three functions to help the United States coordinate a hemispheric migration strategy:

  1. To serve as a key resource that can help the State Department and DHS foreign policy offices during the negotiation process for foreign treaties and agreements on migration that the United States signs with other countries and parties.
  2. To serve as the point of contact for U.S. engagement with dialogues on migration in the rest of the hemisphere, especially ones that lead to non-binding frameworks like the L.A. Declaration.
  3. To serve as the body that would oversee the implementation of binding and non-binding hemispheric or smaller regional migration agreements, treaties, and frameworks.

Additionally, the task force would be the key body for directing U.S. migration policy in the Western Hemisphere. This process should include gathering and analyzing data on migration trends in the region, producing quarterly reports and policy recommendations, and holding meetings with stakeholder groups. The task force would also track a regularly updated roster of data to determine whether a migration event is emerging in the hemisphere and notify parent agencies, the White House, and Congress of ones that will impact the United States within a designated time frame. The task force would oversee the protocols for deploying an interagency response to these migration events and working with partner countries, international organizations, and hemispheric or regional forums for policy discussions. Additionally, it would provide policy recommendations to the U.S. interagency response and international partners based on member expertise and dialogues with external stakeholders.

The task force would include a permanent stakeholder council that can provide expertise on policy formation, implementation, and assessment from key migration, foreign policy, and national security experts, especially ones from Latin America. To ensure parity in international representation on the council, half of the slots would remain reserved for non-U.S. experts whose appointment could come from organizations, such as the OAS, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Latin American offices for UNHCR and the IOM, MERCOSUR, and regional initiatives like the Quito Process. In the case of U.S. experts, non-political staff for the agencies that form the task force would be able to make appointments to promote independence in policymaking from the administration. The task force can incorporate experts from key congressional committees that oversee migration and security issues to inform policies. It can also establish a permanent congressional liaison to engage with Congress on hemispheric migration legislation.

Congress and the White House can adopt three policies to support the task force and the L.A. Process:

  1. Authorize an account within the State Department or DHS so congressional appropriators set aside annual funding for the task force’s operations, along with requirements to publish public reports about its work in meeting U.S. migration policy goals.
  2. Pass a bill that establishes Federal Emergency Management Agency-like (FEMA) protocols allowing the U.S. government to deploy a whole-of-government strategy to respond to migration events at U.S. land and maritime borders after the task force notifies DHS of their emergence, especially ones involving processing vulnerable populations requiring federal agencies and funding non-profit organizations that serve migrants.
  3. Provide financial support for the L.A. Process, especially for policy assessments by ministerial and international organization experts. This includes setting aside funding for the task force to support these ministerial meetings or incorporating funds into State Department and DHS appropriations.

Taking these steps will ensure that the United States can help the hemisphere pivot towards a more effective approach to managing migration in the future.

Conclusion: Delivering on a Permanent Coordinated Hemispheric Response to Migration

The Biden administration has announced more steps to coordinate migration policy with other countries in the region since publishing the L.A. Declaration. On July 12, 2022, President Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador concluded President López Obrador’s visit to the White House with a joint statement that marked the first time both countries discussed cooperation on migration issues since the debut of the L.A. Declaration in June 2022. In addition to committing to targeting human smugglers and addressing the root causes of migration, the statement noted that both countries will start a bilateral working group on labor migration pathways and protections for migrant workers. They will also convene a working group to strengthen the countries’ cross-border response to child migration.

The hemisphere is at an important crossroads between adopting ad hoc measures to manage migration or investing in a long-term framework.

While these forums may help the United States and Mexico improve policy coordination on two areas included in the L.A. Declaration’s pillars, the announcement raises broader questions over the preferred modalities for future hemispheric coordination. First, it is unknown whether this announcement portends a post-L.A. Declaration future where the United States and other countries rely on ad hoc bilateral forums for discussing policies instead of establishing more permanent ones for these purposes. Whether the region will take a similar approach is unclear, with a revolving series of joint declarations and policy documents that lack consistency or continuity in their goals and the measures that fall under their auspices. Finally, citizens may elect leaders who reject hemispheric cooperation on immigration that promotes migration management, which raises the question of the long-term viability of agreements without mechanisms to cover policy gaps if countries abandon them.

Consequently, the hemisphere is at an important crossroads between adopting ad hoc measures to manage migration or investing in a long-term framework. Although issuing more policy documents along the lines of the L.A. Declaration could have a cumulative effect in making hemispheric cooperation the default position for migration policies, it is unlikely that this approach could produce the same policy outcomes as the regional policies proposed in this report. The U.S. proposals would also ensure that the United States can maintain a consistent hemispheric engagement strategy in the face of potentially major swings on U.S. immigration between presidential administrations. To be sure, the ad hoc strategy requires less investment in time and resources, making it easier to deploy these measures than long-term frameworks. An ad hoc strategy also shows that gradually phasing in a permanent framework is the most feasible way to adopt this report’s proposals. Nevertheless, the scope and scale of the next set of migration challenges in the Western Hemisphere requires a long-term vision—not short-term expediency—to ensure its countries can make migration a safe component of the dynamics of their societies.

Appendix A: The White House’s Update on Meeting the Goals of the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy

The following table contains the Biden administration’s April 2022 update on its efforts to fulfill the goals in the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy, which it released through an executive order on February 2, 2022.

ComponentPolicies
Expand Access to International Protection• The State Department funded the UNHCR to continue helping the Guatemalan government build its asylum capacity.
• The State Department provided funding to UNHCR to help COMAR, which granted asylum to 37,806 individuals in 2021.
• The State Department provided funding to the IOM, UNHCR, and UNICEF to work with the Guatemalan government to establish Migration Resource Centers, which assess an individual’s protection and economic needs to provide relevant services, in areas with high levels of emigration in the country.
• The State Department funded UNICEF to support the Guatemalan Migration Institute to establish a new Child Protection Unit (UAPNA), which deployed child protection officers to the southern and northern borders of Guatemala.
• The State Department funded UNICEF and UNHCR to help child welfare authorities in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez to eliminate backlogs of best interest determinations for migrant children to resolve the adjudication of their immigration cases by Mexican authorities.
Expand Access to Protection in Countries of Origin• The State Department supported the UNHCR launch of the Creating Opportunities program in El Salvador to offer technical and professional courses to improve livelihoods of young IDPs and others at risk of violence or exploitation by gangs.
• The USAID funded psychosocial support, gender-based violence prevention activities, migration awareness, and children’s rights protection information to approximately 5,100 Honduran youth and over 1,375 returned migrants and IDPs impacted by the 2020 hurricanes.
• The State Department gave funding to the IOM between August and December 2021 to carry out Assisted Voluntary Return programs to 1,250 vulnerable migrants from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador.
Expand Third Country Labor Migration Programs While Improving Worker Protections• USAID assisted the Guatemalan Ministry of Labor, the Honduran Ministry of Labor, and the Salvadoran Ministry of Foreign Affairs with designing and implementing processes to increase access to seasonal work opportunities in these countries, especially for the H-2 programs.
• The State Department provided funding for IOM to help the Costa Rican government process 18,000 migrant requests in the country’s agricultural temporary labor migration category.
• USAID funded pre-departure training in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for seasonal workers on their rights under the H-2 visa program.
Assist with Reintegrated Persons• USAID-supported programs provided 120,000 returned migrants in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras with services to facilitate reintegration.
• USAID provided almost 9,000 returned or prospective migrants in these three countries with job skill development and vocational training, job orientation and placement, and reinsertion to schools.
• From August through December 2021, the State Department funded IOM to administer assisted voluntary return efforts for 1,250 vulnerable migrants in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Foster Secure and Humane Management of Borders• DHS trained over 600 Government of Guatemala personnel between July and December 2021 to manage the rise of irregular immigration.
• DHS officials in Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Tijuana worked with Mexican officials to counter human smuggling and fraud.
• DHS information exchange with Mexican and Central American counterparts helped Operation Sentinel, an interagency counter-network operation targeting transnational criminal organizations affiliated with the smuggling of migrants.
• The Department of Justice with DHS investigated and prosecuted human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
• State Department foreign assistance funding supported a regional effort to share criminal intelligence about transnational criminal organizations and associated criminals in Central America, with a focus on migrant smuggling and human trafficking.
• State Department funding helped regional efforts to share criminal intelligence about transnational criminal organizations, especially ones involved in migrant smuggling.
Expand Legal Pathways• The Biden administration restarted the Central American Minors program after the Trump administration ended it in 2017 to resume some in-region processing of vulnerable migrants.
• The Biden administration also announced in 2021 that it would set aside an additional 6,000 H-2B nonagricultural temporary work visas for workers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador that were exempt from the program’s annual cap of 66,000 visas, a step they repeated in 2022 when they set aside 11,500 visas for these groups along with Haitian nationals.

Source: Reuters, DHS, Migration Policy Institute, The White House.

Appendix B: The Goals and Deliverables for the Policy Pillars of the L.A. Declaration on Migration and Protection

The following table contains all the goals and pillars for the L.A. Declaration on Migration and Protection that 20 countries signed on June 10, 2022.

Pillar One: Stability and Assistance for Communities

Goals

  • Ensure countries of origin have the resources to address the root causes of migration.
  • Provide countries of destination with the resources and policies to process and integrate migrants in their communities.
  • Provide countries of origin with the resources to assist with reintegrating their national from abroad.

Deliverables

  • Belize will implement a program in August 2022 to regularize Central American and Caribbean migrants who have been living illegally in the country.
  • Colombia reaffirmed to fully implement its announcement of temporary protected status for displaced Venezuelan migrants and refugees as well as grant regularization permits to 1.5 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees by the end of August 2022.
  • Costa Rica will plan for a renewal of the special temporary complementary protection category scheme for migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
  • Ecuador issued an executive decree that created a path to a regular migration status for Venezuelans who entered the country regularly via an official port of entry but are currently out of status.
  • The United States will provide $25 million to the Global Concessional Financing Facility in the World Bank to support registration processes, the extension of social services, and integration programs for countries implementing regularization programs (such as Costa Rica and Ecuador).
  • The United States announced $314 million in new funding for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees and USAID for stabilization efforts in the Americas.

Pillar Two: Legal Pathways and Protection

Goal

  • Reinforce and expand humanitarian and legal pathways to create alternate routes for irregular migrants.

Deliverables

  • Canada launched its resettlement complementary pathways initiative, which includes increasing refugee resettlement from the Americas by up to 4,000 individuals by 2028.
  • Canada invested $26.9 million in 2022 to 2023 for migration- and protection-related capacity building in the Americas.
  • Canada received 50,000 agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean in 2022.
  • Guatemala approved a law on June 1, 2022, to strengthen its labor recruitment efforts, including expanding oversight over recruiters and eliminating taxes on flights obtained through the Ministry of Labor for migrants traveling abroad for temporary foreign work programs.
  • Mexico will expand the existing Border Worker Card program, which has increasingly become a major route for Central American nationals to work in Mexico, to include 10,000 to 20,000 additional beneficiaries.
  • Mexico will launch a new temporary labor program providing work opportunities in Mexico for 15,000 to 20,000 workers from Guatemala per year and expand eligibility for Honduran and Salvadoran nationals in the medium term.
  • The United States will launch the development of a $65 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program to support U.S. farmers hiring agricultural workers under the H-2A program, namely providing grants to employers who hire Central American nationals through fair recruitment practices.
  • The United States will provide 11,500 H-2B nonagricultural seasonal worker visas for nationals of Northern Central America and Haiti.
  • The United States will adopt the Fair Recruitment Practices Guidance for Temporary Migrant Workers with the cooperation of major employers, including Walmart, to protect the safety of workers through the H-2 program.
  • The United States will commit to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Americas during Fiscal Years 2023 to 2024 and increase the resettlement of Haitian nationals.
  • The United States will resume the Cuban Family Reunification Parole and Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program that allow individuals in these countries to access dedicated legal channels to arrive to the United States from these countries.

Pillar Three: Humane Border Management

Goals

  • Promote migration management and reduce irregular immigration through:
    • Humane border enforcement and management.
    • Effective return policies for migrants ineligible for protection.
    • Strengthened bilateral and regional law enforcement information sharing and cooperation to combat migrant smuggling and human trafficking.

Deliverables

  • The United States will announce a multilateral “sting operation” to disrupt human smuggling networks across the hemisphere, which includes collaboration and information sharing with other countries.
  • The United States introduced a regulation that would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Officers to process asylum cases for individuals seeking this protection at the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce the processing time for adjudicating these cases.

Pillar Four: Promoting a Coordinated Emergency

Goals

  • Strengthen existing regional coordination mechanisms to anticipate and manage migration events, including:
    • Strengthening information sharing as needed and in alignment with national legislation.
    • Enhancing early warning systems.
    • Leveraging existing relevant forums and processes to support the system.
    • Defining a common set of triggers that activate a coordinated response.

About the Author

Cristobal Ramón is an independent expert on U.S. and global migration policy. He has served as a migration policy consultant to organizations such as the Migration Policy Institute, the George W. Bush Institute, the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. He previously worked for both the Immigration Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the National Immigration Forum and interned with the Migration Policy Institute.

Mr. Ramón is a graduate of Macalester College and the Master of Arts in international affairs program at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he focused on comparative U.S.-EU immigration policy. In addition, he researched Spain’s immigration policy as a Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Theresa Cardinal Brown (Managing Director, Immigration and Cross-Border Policy, the Bipartisan Policy Center) and Jorge Alberto Schiavon Uriegas (Professor-Researcher, Division of International Studies, Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas) for reviewing this brief and providing feedback on its contents. This paper and project on DHS oversight and accountability is made possible with the generous support of the Democracy Fund.

As a research and policy institution committed to the highest standards of organizational, intellectual, and personal integrity, CNAS maintains strict intellectual independence and sole editorial direction and control over its ideas, projects, publications, events, and other research activities. CNAS does not take institutional positions on policy issues and the content of CNAS publications reflects the views of their authors alone. In keeping with its mission and values, CNAS does not engage in lobbying activity and complies fully with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. CNAS will not engage in any representational activities or advocacy on behalf of any entities or interests and, to the extent that the Center accepts funding from non-U.S. sources, its activities will be limited to bona fide scholastic, academic, and research-related activities, consistent with applicable federal law. The Center publicly acknowledges on its website annually all donors who contribute.

  1. Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli and Roberta Cohen, “Internal Displacement in the Americas: Some Distinctive Features,” The Brookings Institution, May 1, 2001, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/internal-displacement-in-the-americas-some-distinctive-features/.
  2. Cristobal Ramón and Yari Gutierrez, “History Shows the U.S. Doesn’t Do Well at Preparing for Migration Crises,” Bipartisan Policy Center, January 22, 2019, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/history-shows-the-u-s-doesnt-do-well-at-preparing-for-migration-crises/; Patrick Gavigan, “Migration Emergencies and Human Rights In Haiti” (paper prepared for the Conference on Regional Responses to Forced Migration in Central America and the Caribbean, Washington, DC September 30–October 1, 1997), https://www.oas.org/juridico/english/gavigane.html; Government Accountability Office, U.S. Response to the 1994 Cuban Migration Crisis, GAO/NSIAD 95-211 (September 1995), https://www.gao.gov/products/nsiad-95-211.
  3. Emma Israel and Jeanne Batalova, “Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute, November 5, 2020, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/mexican-immigrants-united-states-2019; “Rising Border Encounters in 2021: An Overview and Analysis,” American Immigration Council, March 4, 2022, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/rising-border-encounters-in-2021.
  4. Bryan Roberts, Gordon Hanson, Derekh Cornwell, and Scott Borger, An Analysis of Migrant Smuggling Costs along the Southwest Border, An Analysis of Migrant Smuggling Costs along the Southwest Border (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigrant Statistics, November 2010), https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois-smuggling-wp.pdf.
  5. “Latin America: Armed violence, conflict, internal displacement, migration and disappearances were main humanitarian challenges in 2021,” International Committee of the Red Cross, March 16, 2022, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/latin-america-armed-violence-conflict-internal-displacement-migration-disappearances; Christopher Sabatini and Jon Wallace, “Migration in Latin America,” Chatham House, October 6, 2021, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/10/migration-latin-america; Lizabelt Avila and Maureen Meyer, “Beyond the U.S.-Mexico Border: Migration Trends in the Americas, Explained,” Washington Office on Latin America, May 26, 2022, https://www.wola.org/analysis/beyond-the-u-s-mexico-border-migration-trends-in-the-americas-explained/.
  6. See Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Dismantling Migrant Smuggling Networks in the America: A Strategy for Human Security and Homeland Security Along Migration Routes (Harvard Kennedy School of Government Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, June 2022), https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/files/publication/Paper13_Cabrera_DismantlingMigrantSmuggling_V2.pdf and Victoria A. Greenfield, Blas Nunez-Neto, Ian Mitch, Joseph C. Chang, and Etienne Rosas, Human Smuggling and Associated Revenues: What Do or Can We Know About Routes from Central America to the United States? (Rand Corporation, 2019), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2852.html.
  7. Avila and Meyer, “Beyond the U.S.-Mexico Border: Migration Trends in the Americas, Explained”; American Immigration Council, “Rising Border Encounters in 2021: An Overview and Analysis”; Jessica Bolter, “It Is Too Simple to Call 2021 a Record Year for Migration at the U.S.-Mexico Border,” Migration Policy Institute, October 21, 2021, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/2021-migration-us-mexico-border.
  8. Caitlin Yates, “Haitian Migration through the Americas: A Decade in the Making,” Migration Policy Institute, September 30, 2021, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/haitian-migration-through-americas; Edward Alden, “Why Are Haitian Migrants Gathering at the U.S. Border?,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 1, 2021, https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/why-are-haitian-migrants-gathering-us-border.
  9. “WhatsApp, social posts helped lead Haitian migrants to Texas,” Associated Press, September 23, 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/whatsapp-social-posts-helped-lead-haitian-migrants-texas-rcna2208; Alexandra Ulmer, “WhatsApp Instructions, Mexican Struggles: How Haitians Ended up in Texas Camp,” Reuters, September 17, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-09-17/whatsapp-instructions-mexican-struggles-how-haitians-ended-up-in-texas-camp.
  10. Although the Panamanian government does track the returns of migrants, these numbers are significantly lower than the numbers tracking irregular migration from Colombia into Panamanian territory. For example, only 2,037 individuals were deported, expelled, or processed through voluntary returns. As a result, this analysis will rely on irregular crossings as the key data source to track migration into Panama from South America. In the case of Mexico and the United States, these governments only track enforcement actions against immigrants, meaning that these data sources will serve as the information to track migration from Central America to Mexico and Mexico to the United States. “Migration Data Points,” Government of Panama, https://www.migracion.gob.pa/images/img2021/pdf/SANCIONES_ADMINISTRATIVAS_DICIEMBRE_2021.pdf.
  11. Tracking unique encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border is a better metric than overall encounters because this data excludes repeat border crossers that can increase the number of encounters CBP records. Although this trend largely existed in the 1990s when Border Patrol agents would voluntarily release single adult Mexicans into Mexico, it reemerged after the Trump administration adopted the Title 42 program in March 2020. In both cases, the absence of penalties against future legal entry into the United States for individuals removed from the United States through these processes prompts them to attempt reentry into the country, driving the number of recorded encounters in the process. In contrast, individuals removed from the country through the expedited removal process, which emerged as the key method to deport individuals from the United States beginning in the 2000s, penalizes individuals with a five-year bar against entry into the United States. Cristobal Ramón, “Everything Old Is New: Southwest Border Migration Evokes Past Trends,” Bipartisan Policy Center, July 21, 2020, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/everything-old-is-new-southwest-border-migration-evokes-past-trends/.
  12. The author received permission to use this data in this report from a colleague who received this information from a FOIA request submitted to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  13. “Extranjeros presentados y devueltos, 2021 [foreigners apprehended and returned, 2021],” SEGOB Migration Policy Unit, 2021, http://www.politicamigratoria.gob.mx/es/PoliticaMigratoria/CuadrosBOLETIN?Anual=2021.
  14. “Tránsito Irregular de Extranjeros Por La Frontera con Colombia Año 2021 [irregular crossings by foreigners through the border with Colombia, 2021,” Government of Panama, 2021, https://www.migracion.gob.pa/images/img2021/pdf/SANCIONES_ADMINISTRATIVAS_DICIEMBRE_2021.pdf.
  15. Eileen Sullivan, “U.S. Accelerated Expulsions of Haitian Migrants in May,” The New York Times, June 9, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/09/us/politics/haiti-migrants-biden.html.
  16. Sullivan, “U.S. Accelerated Expulsions of Haitian Migrants in May.”
  17. SEGOB “Extranjeros presentados y devueltos, 2021 [foreigners apprehended and returned].”
  18. Government of Panama, “Tránsito Irregular de Extranjeros Por La Frontera con Colombia Año 2021 [[irregular crossings by foreigners through the border with Colombia, 2021].”
  19. “Nationwide Encounters,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, July 15, 2022, https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/nationwide-encounters.
  20. Cristobal Ramón, “Helping Mexico Maintain a Middle Path on Migration Should Be the United States’ Priority in Managing the Central American Migration Crisis,” Bipartisan Policy Center, June 4, 2019, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/helping-mexico-maintain-a-middle-path-on-migration-should-be-the-united-states-priority-in-managing-the-central-american-migration-crisis/; Cristobal Ramón, “Central American Migration Also Tests Mexico’s Humanitarian System,” Bipartisan Policy Center, March 22, 2019, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/central-american-migration-also-tests-mexicos-humanitarian-system/.
  21. “Solicitudes de Protección,” Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, June 1, 2022, https://www.gob.mx/cms/uploads/attachment/file/729953/Cierre_Mayo-2022__1-Junio_.pdf.
  22. Edgar H. Clemente, “Venezuelans big presence in caravan after visa requirement,” Associated Press, June 8, 2022, https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/venezuelans-big-presence-caravan-visa-requirement-85268422; “Number of Venezuelans crossing the Darien Gap soars,” UNHCR, Mach 29, 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2022/3/6243298f4/number-venezuelans-crossing-darien-gap-soars.html.
  23. Dave Graham, “Mexico to impose visa requirement on Venezuelans to stem migration,” Reuters, December 17, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexico-impose-visa-requirements-venezuelans-2021-12-17/.
  24. Walter A. Ewing, “Enemy Territory”: Immigration Enforcement in The Us-Mexico Borderlands,” Journal on Migration and Human Security, 2, No. 3 (June 2014): 198–222, https://cmsny.org/publications/jmhs-enemy-territory/.
  25. One early example of this deterrence posture was the treatment of Haitian migrants arriving by raft to the United States in the early 1980s. Ramón and Gutierrez, “History Shows the U.S. Doesn’t Do Well at Preparing for Migration Crises.”
  26. “The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants,” 2020 Presidential Campaign for Joe Biden, https://joebiden.com/immigration/.
  27. For example, see Ariel G. Ruiz Soto and Andrew Selee, “Beyond the Border: Opportunities for Managing Regional Migration between Central and North America,” Migration Policy Institute April 2022, https://www.migrationportal.org/insight/beyond-border-opportunities-managing-regional-migration-central-north-america/; Andrew Selee, Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, Andrea Tanco, Luis Argueta, and Jessica Bolter, Laying the Foundation for Regional Cooperation: Migration Policy & Institutional Capacity in Mexico and Central America (Migration Policy Institute, 2021), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/regional-cooperation-migration-capacity-mexico-central-america; Cristobal Ramón, Laura Collins, and Matthew Rooney, Smart Border Policy For The 21st Century, (George W. Bush Institute, February 2021), https://www.bushcenter.org/publications/resources-reports/reports/immigration-white-papers/smart-border-policy-in-the-21st-century.html; Theresa Brown, Redefining Border Security Redefining Border Security: A Plan for Migration Management and Border Security (Bipartisan Policy Center, May 2021), https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/redefining-border-security/. Andrew Selee and Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, Building a New Regional Migration System: Redefining U.S. Cooperation with Mexico and Central America (Migration Policy Institute, November 2020), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/new-regional-migration-system-us-mexico-central-america; Policy Proposals to Address the Central American Migration Challenge (Bipartisan Policy Center, July 2019), https://bipartisanpolicy.org/report/policy-proposals-to-address-the-central-american-migration-challenge/; Addressing the Increase of Central American Migrants (National Immigration Forum, May 2019), https://immigrationforum.org/article/addressing-the-increase-of-central-american-migrants/.
  28. See Cristobal Ramón, Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, María Jesús Mora and Ana Martín Gil, Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration? (Migration Policy Institute, June 2022), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/temporary-worker-programs-canada-mexico-costa-rica; Cristobal Ramón, Investing in Alternatives to Irregular Migration from Central America: Options to Expand U.S. Employment Pathways (Migration Policy Institute, November 2021), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/alternatives-irregular-migration-central-america; Michael Clemens, “The Real Root Causes of America’s Border Crisis – And How Biden Can Address Them,” Foreign Affairs, June 7, 2021, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/central-america-caribbean/2021-06-07/real-root-causes-americas-border-crisis; Michael Clemens, Reva Resstack, and Cassandra Zimmer, Harnessing Northern Triangle Migration for Mutual Benefit (Center for Global Development, December 2020), https://www.cgdev.org/publication/harnessing-northern-triangle-migration-mutual-benefit; David Bier, “Legal Immigration Will Resolve America’s Real Border Problems,” Cato Institute, August 2019, https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/legal-immigration-will-resolve-americas-real-border-problems.
  29. Some research has noted that root causes strategies such as cash transfers actually increases irregular immigration in the near-term since the increase in an individual’s economic condition provides them with the ability to contract smugglers to travel to countries, such as the United States. Sarah Rose, Reva Resstack, Helen Dempster, Elisa Cascardi, and Jeremy Weinstein “Addressing the “Root Causes” of Irregular Migration from Central America: An Evidence Agenda for USAID,” Center for Global Development, December 10, 2021, https://www.cgdev.org/publication/addressing-root-causes-irregular-migration-central-america-evidence-agenda-usaid; Michael Clemens, “Emigration Rises Along with Economic Development. Aid Agencies Should Face This, but Not Fear It,” Center for Global Development, August 18, 2020, https://www.cgdev.org/blog/emigration-rises-along-economic-development-aid-agencies-should-face-not-fear-it.
  30. “Face Sheet on Migration,” The White House, press release, September 5, 2001, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010905-11.html.
  31. “Central American Minors Program,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, June 22, 2022, https://www.uscis.gov/CAM.
  32. Ramón, “Investing in Alternatives to Irregular Migration from Central America,” 8.
  33. Mexico informally accepted returns under MPP when the program operated at a few locations along the U.S.-Mexico border. The June 2021 agreement expanded the policy to the entire U.S.-Mexico border. “Featured Issue: Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” American Immigration Lawyers Association, July 7, 2022, https://www.aila.org/advo-media/issues/all/port-courts; Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, “One Year after the U.S.-Mexico Agreement: Reshaping Mexico’s Migration Policies,” Migration Policy Institute,” June 2020, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/one-year-us-mexico-agreement.
  34. Although the Trump administration signed these agreements, Guatemala was the only country that implemented the agreement, receiving 939 individuals between December 2019 and March 2020, when the Guatemalan government suspended ACA returns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration introduced its Title 42 policy in March 2020 and used this program as the vehicle to remove migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border much like it did with MPP and the Guatemalan ACA. Cristobal Ramón, “How the Trump Administration is Using COVID-19 to Continue its Border Deterrence Efforts,” Bipartisan Policy Center, May 21, 2020, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/how-the-trump-administration-is-using-covid-19-to-continue-its-border-deterrence-efforts/; Cristobal Ramón, “Everything Old Is New: Southwest Border Migration Evokes Past Trends,” Bipartisan Policy Center, July 21, 2020, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/everything-old-is-new-southwest-border-migration-evokes-past-trends/.
  35. Cristobal Ramón, Cristobal Ramón, “The Exception to the Exception: How the Asylum Cooperative Agreements Reinstate Expedited Removal for Asylum-seekers,” March 20, 2020, https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/the-exception-to-the-exception-how-the-asylum-cooperative-agreements-reinstate-expedited-removal-for-asylum-seekers/.
  36. “About Us,” Regional Conference on Migration, https://www.crmsv.org/en/about-us; “Qué es la CSM [What is the CSM],” Conferencia Suramericana Sobre Migraciones, https://csmigraciones.org/es/quienes-somos/que-es-la-csm; “Committee on Migration Issues,” Organization of American States Inter-American Council for Integral Development – Committee on Migration Issues, https://www.oas.org/en/cidi/cidi_CAM.asp. “What We Do,” The Quito Process, https://www.procesodequito.org/en/what-we-do; Andrew Selee and Jessica Bolter, An Uneven Welcome: Latin American and Caribbean Responses to Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Migration, (Migration Policy Institute, 2020), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/latam-caribbean-responses-venezuelan-nicaraguan-migration; Diego Acosta, “Free Movement in South America: The Emergence of an Alternative Model?,” Migration Policy Institute, August 23, 2016, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/free-movement-south-america-emergence-alternative-model; Francisco Alba and Manuel Ángel Castillo, New Approaches to Migration Management in Mexico and Central America (Migration Policy Institute, October 2012), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/RMSG-MexCentAm-Migration.pdf.
  37. The signatory countries are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
  38. The additional signatory countries include the Dominican Republic and Guyana. Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States hold observer status.
  39. “Member States Unanimously Sign the 8th Joint Declaration of the Brasilia Chapter at its Conclusion,” Quito Process, press release, July 5, 2022, https://www.procesodequito.org/en/member-states-unanimously-sign-8th-joint-declaration-brasilia-chapter-its-conclusion.
  40. Sarah Miller and Daphne Panayotatos, Quito III: What Regional Governments Must Do to Help Displaced Venezuelans (Refugees International, 2019), https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2019/4/5/quito-iii-what-governments-must-do-to-help-displaced-venezuelans.
  41. Miller and Panayotatos, Quito III: What Regional Governments Must Do to Help Displaced Venezuelans.
  42. “President Biden’s Executive Actions on Immigration,” Center for Migration Studies, https://cmsny.org/biden-immigration-executive-actions/.
  43. Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border. Exec. Order No. 14010, 86 FR 8267 (2021), https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/02/05/2021-02561/creating-a-comprehensive-regional-framework-to-address-the-causes-of-migration-to-manage-migration.
  44. Ramón, “Investing in Alternatives to Irregular Migration from Central America: Options to Expand U.S. Employment Pathways.”
  45. “Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework,” Exec Order No. 14010.
  46. The H-2B program, which allows employers to sponsor workers for specific industries, has a cap of 66,000 visas. However, the U.S. government can decide to set aside an additional visas for specific groups using existing legal authorities. “Fact Sheet #78: General Requirements for Employers Participating in the H-2B Program,” U.S. Department of Labor, April 2015, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/78-h2b-overview.
  47. The signatory countries include Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Suriname, and the United States.
  48. “Joint Statement of the Ministerial Meeting in Bogotá on the Causes and Challenges of Migration,” U.S. Department of State, press release, October 29, 2021, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-of-the-ministerial-meeting-in-bogota-on-the-causes-and-challenges-of-migration/; “Mexico highlights development cooperation as essential at a ministerial conference on migration in Bogotá,” Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations, press release 478, October 21, 2021, https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/mexico-highlights-development-cooperation-as-essential-at-a-ministerial-conference-on-migration-in-bogota?idiom=en.
  49. “Panama Hosts Important Ministerial Meeting to Agree on Continental Strategies For Migration,” Embassy of Panama in the United States, press release, April 17, 2022, https://www.embassyofpanama.org/news/2022/4/18/panama-host-important-ministerial-meeting-to-agree-on-continental-strategies-on-migration; “Readout of Secretary Mayorkas’s Trip to Panama,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, press release, April 20, 2022, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2022/04/20/readout-secretary-mayorkass-trip-panama.
  50. President Biden has also missed other opportunities to create new coordinated frameworks for immigration policymaking. For instance, President Lopez Obrador had proposed developing a new guestworker program for Mexican and Central American migrants to work in the United States to manage irregular immigration to the United States before his first conversation with President Biden in March 2021 and the North American Leaders’ Summit in November 2021. While President Biden, President Lopez Obrador, and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and their technical teams discussed addressing the root causes of irregular migration, they did not explore this guestworker proposal to manage irregular immigration to the United States and Mexico. “Biden Meets With Canada’s Trudeau and Mexico’s López Obrador,” The New York Times, November 18, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/18/us/biden-amlo-trudeau; Alex Nowrasteh, “Mexican President AMLO Proposes New Guest Worker Visa Based on the Bracero Program,” The Cato Institute, March 1, 2021, https://www.cato.org/blog/mexican-president-amlo-proposes-new-guest-worker-visa-based-bracero-program?queryID=0b3674bd619cb8a067f734fe3fb49994; Nacha Cattan, “U.S. Labor Shortage Gives Mexico Munition for Migrant Visa Plan,” Bloomberg, November 12, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-12/u-s-labor-shortage-gives-mexico-munition-for-migrant-visa-plan#xj4y7vzkg.
  51. U.S. Department of State, “Summit of the Americas.” https://www.state.gov/summit-of-the-americas/.
  52. The signatory list includes Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay.
  53. “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection,” The White House, press release, June 10, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/10/los-angeles-declaration-on-migration-and-protection/; “Fact Sheet: The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection U.S. Government and Foreign Partner Deliverables,” The White House, press release, June 10, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/10/fact-sheet-the-los-angeles-declaration-on-migration-and-protection-u-s-government-and-foreign-partner-deliverables/.
  54. Andrew Selee, “The Los Angeles Declaration Could Represent a Big Step for Real Migration Cooperation across the Americas,” Migration Policy Institute, June 2022, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/los-angeles-declaration-migration-cooperation.
  55. Ramón, Ruiz Soto, Mora, and Gil, “Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration.”
  56. “President Biden and President Lopez Obrador Joint Statement,” The White House, press release, July 12, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/07/12/president-biden-and-president-lopez-obrador-joint-statement/.
  57. Ted Hesson, “U.S. to Set Aside 6,000 Guest Worker Visas for Central Americans,” Reuters, April 20, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/us-set-aside-6000-guest-worker-visas-central-americans-sources-2021-04-20/.
  58. “DHS and DOL to Supplement the H-2B Cap with Additional Visas for Second Half of Fiscal Year 2022,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, press release, March 31, 2020, https://www.dhs.gov/news/2022/03/31/dhs-and-dol-supplement-h-2b-cap-additional-visas-second-half-fiscal-year-2022.
  59. Mark Greenberg, Stephanie Heredia, Kira Monin, Celia Reynolds, and Essey Workie, Relaunching the Central American Minors Program: Opportunities to Enhance Child Safety and Family Reunification (Migration Policy Institute, December 2021), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/relaunching-central-american-minors-program.
  60. “Fact Sheet: Update on the Collaborative Migration Management Strategy,” The White House, press release, April 20, 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/20/fact-sheet-update-on-the-collaborative-migration-management-strategy/.
  61. White House, “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection” and White House, “Fact Sheet: The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection U.S. Government and Foreign Partner Deliverables”; Ramón, Ruiz Soto, Mora, and Gil, “Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration.”
  62. The primary vehicles for nationals from these countries exist in the Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program’s agricultural programs, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program for Mexican and Caribbean Nationals and two “streams” for agricultural workers that have become a major channel for Guatemalan nationals to work in Canada. Ramón, Ruiz Soto, Mora, and Gil, “Temporary Worker Programs in Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica: Promising Pathways for Managing Central American Migration,” 4–5.
  63. Many U.S.-based agricultural employers noted that one reason they tend to recruit Mexican nationals over ones from Central American countries like Guatemala for the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Visa Program partly because it is cheaper to pay for bus tickets from Mexico than flights from Guatemala. This measure aims to address this component of mitigating these costs to increase interest in recruiting Guatemalan nationals. Ramón, “Investing in Alternatives to Irregular Migration from Central America,” 8–9.
  64. Currently, the Immigration Court System within the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review reviews asylum cases for irregular migrants crossing the border to seek this status as a part of their removal proceedings. Given that this system has a significant, the regulation aims to reduce the waiting time by having USCIS Asylum Officers, who already review asylum claims for individuals already in the United States, process these cases at the border. Organizations that advocate for a regional migration management approach have advocated for these measures for these reasons. “Fact Sheet: Implementation of the Credible Fear and Asylum Processing Interim Final Rule,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, May 26, 2022, https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-and-asylum/asylum/fact-sheet-implementation-of-the-credible-fear-and-asylum-processing-interim-final-rule; “DHS and DOJ Issue Rule to Efficiently and Fairly Process Asylum Claims” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, press release, March 24, 2022, https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/news-releases/dhs-and-doj-issue-rule-to-efficiently-and-fairly-process-asylum-claims; Doris Meissner, Faye Hipsman, and T. Alexander Aleinikoff, The U.S. Asylum System in Crisis: Charting a Way Forward (Migration Policy Institute, September 2018), https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/us-asylum-system-crisis-charting-way-forward.

Authors

  • Cristobal Ramón

    Contributing Author

    Cristobal Ramón is an independent expert on U.S. and global migration policy. He has served as a migration policy consultant to organizations, such as the Migration Policy Ins...

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