Mexican immigration officers have begun screening travelers bound for San Diego in line at the border, reports San Diego Union Tribune.
The move supports the strategies used by the United States to prevent asylum seekers from reaching their territory and asking for protection.
Mexican immigration officers, escorted by security forces, screen travelers' documents before they enter the United States from the car lanes at the port of entry of San Ysidro starting Nov. 15, a move that highlights Mexico's growing role in helping the US control US migration.
Mexican officials say the move is an attempt to expedite border crossings. Officials hope that using Mexican immigration officers to filter out travelers without valid documents before they enter the United States (a task currently performed by US border officials) will allow US officials to divert resources to manning more Mexican passengers.
Mexico's consul general in San Diego, Carlos González Gutiérrez, called the program a "bilateral cooperation" aimed at making the port of entry reach its "full potential."
Meanwhile, immigration and human rights organizations are concerned that the move will mean extra checks for asylum seekers, ostensibly to stop them.
US Customs and Border Protection currently deploys officers at the physical border, known as the "restriction line" and marked with a yellow line with bulges in the ground, to verify that drivers and their passengers have documents to enter the United States. This is the initial screening point, located just a few minutes walk from the booths where other CBP officers thoroughly check travelers' documents and determine if cars can pass.
The current dual control of US officials on the border has existed since at least last summer. This is a response to asylum seekers, especially Russians, who enter the US through car lanes to ask for protection because they have had few opportunities to do so under US policy.
Mexican officials hope that as part of a pilot program that will run from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15, CBP will instruct these officials to open more lanes as Mexican authorities do similar work. Gonzalez Gutierrez said Mexican officials are cooperating with the United States on the issue.
To those who view many of Mexico's migration policies as externalizing the US border, the program seems to be just another way Mexico is helping the United States avoid its legal obligation to screen asylum claims from asylum seekers.
Mexico's decision to help the US screen people traveling to its territory is part of a larger change that has taken place over the past few years in relations between the two countries, Adam Isakson of the Washington-based office for Latin America said.
“Mexico has for decades been reluctant to be seen as an adjunct or adjunct to U.S. border security policy,” Isakson said. “Five or 10 years ago it would have been unthinkable to see Mexicans say yes to something like this.”
González Gutiérrez stressed that the idea of training Mexican officials to guard the zone is to "speed up traffic during the high season" and that they are meant to discourage "irregular activities."
“We do not deter or prevent anyone from seeking asylum,” González Gutiérrez said. "The only thing we're doing is protecting the infrastructure we need to speed up crossings, reduce waiting times and ensure that this port of entry is being used for what it's supposed to be used for."
Businesses and passengers have complained about long waiting times at the border for years, especially after the PedWest crosswalk near Las Americas outlets on the American side was closed due to the pandemic. The transition has yet to open, and CBP cites limited resources as the reason for the closed status of the transition.
“We have a bit more workload with the same resources,” Port of San Isidro director Marisa Marin said in an interview with the Union-Tribune in September, noting that agency hiring had suffered early in the pandemic.
Gustavo de la Fuente, executive director of the Smart Border Coalition, called the pilot program a wise decision as it could lead to more lanes opening.
“I am glad that they are taking new measures to speed up border crossing,” he said.
Officials announced the pilot program on November 9 after a meeting between González Gutierrez, Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero, U.S. Consul General in Tijuana Tom Reott, and others.
You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants, and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York.
The security checkpoint will be installed on both Ready Lane and the trusted traveler lanes used by SENTRI owners about 100m from the border and next to the footbridge that crosses the waiting lanes, Mexican officials said. The checkpoint will operate around the clock.
Officials from Mexico's immigration agency, the Instituto Nacional de Migración, or INM, will run the screening site and will be escorted by shift-working security forces, including the Tijuana Municipal Police, the Baja California State Police, and the Mexican National Guard. Those without proper documentation, as Mexican officials have said, will be taken to a Mexican immigration facility for processing.
According to González Gutiérrez, only INM officials will be authorized to ask travelers for the documents they need to enter the port. However, he does not assume that documents will be required from every traveler. Rather, he said, they would look for "suspicious vehicles."
In 2021, Reott first floated the idea of having Mexican officials review documents in the northern border traffic at a press conference after brainstorming with Mexican officials.
The CBP began placing officers on the boundary line after asylum seekers, mostly Russians, began using the lanes as a way to get into US territory last year. Asylum seekers generally need to be in the United States in order to initiate legal proceedings seeking protection in the United States.
For years, CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry have similarly controlled pedestrians at the boundary line to limit the processing of asylum seekers, creating months-long waiting lines in Tijuana. When asked about a policy known as "metering", CBP stated that it was due to resource limitations, especially when it comes to port storage cell bandwidth. However, asylum advocates question this claim, especially after hundreds of Ukrainian asylum seekers were processed daily at the San Isidro port of entry earlier this year.
After the pandemic policy completely closed asylum procedures at ports of entry, asylum seekers desperate to get their cases into the United States increasingly resorted to crossing the border without permission, often taking risky routes across the border wall, across the desert , mountains and rivers, or on easily capsizing panga boats in the ocean.
While car crossing the entrance can be risky too – some of the migrants were prosecuted in federal court after their cars collided with police officers standing at the boundary line and an officer shot at the car in December 2021 – this method is not bears no comparison to the appalling statistics of known deaths associated with other means of crossing the border. This made it an attractive option for asylum seekers who had enough money to buy or rent a car in Tijuana. As the lane crossing rumors spread, Russian YouTube channels popped up offering travel tips for the United States.
Russians have been coming to the Tijuana-San Diego border for years to seek asylum, and their numbers have only increased since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many of those who object to the war fled to avoid being politically targeted by an oppressive regime—conditions that would qualify them as refugees.
In the spring of 2022, the CBP, along with local nonprofits, organized daily lists of asylum seekers to be exempted from the still ongoing pandemic policy and admitted to the port of entry on foot to request protection, offering an alternative to crossing the border by car.
However, asylum seekers often wait months before going through this process, and information about this can be difficult to find.
As Mexico tries to help the United States contain these transitions, it may be moving into dubious legal territory.
In 2017, a lawsuit questioned the ability of the US government to deploy asylum seekers moments before they reach their territory. Over a year ago, US District Judge Cynthia Bashant sided with the asylum seekers in this case, saying that when they are in the process of arriving in the United States, US law applies and their applications must be considered.
But so far there has been no change in practice. This is because the lawsuit does not concern Section 42, a pandemic policy that completely stops the processing of asylum seekers at ports of entry and allows the authorities to expel many asylum seekers who cross the border without permission. The legality of this policy was questioned in another lawsuit, but when the Biden administration tried to strike down Section 42, a federal judge ordered that it be left in place for the time being.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has appealed Bashant's decision.
“The main problem here is that the United States continues to close its ports of entry to asylum seekers, including Russians, who have some pretty good grounds for asylum. And instead of urging the United States to open up to asylum seekers so the Russians are not forced to move across the border, Mexico is offering to help lock them down, which appears to violate international law,” Isakson said. “Mexico is ready to go so far as to work with the current US plan.”
Despite Mexico's earlier reluctance to become a migration force for the United States, the new pilot program is part of a long list of actions Mexico is now undertaking to prevent asylum seekers and other migrants from entering the United States, from deploying troops at the borders to changing visa requirements. for Brazilians, Venezuelans and Ecuadorians. More recently, Mexico has agreed to allow the United States to expand the number of nationalities that can be expelled back to Mexican soil after the transition to include Venezuelans on the list.
“Mexico will do the dirty work again,” lawyer Soraya Vasquez said in Spanish.
Trained in Mexico and a licensed lawyer for Al Otro Lado, a legal services organization that supports asylum seekers in Tijuana, Vazquez wants to know how Mexican immigration authorities will determine which vehicles are "suspicious" for ID checks. According to her, she sees the possibility of racial profiling and violations of rights that are contrary to the Mexican constitution. She said that based on the details of the pilot project that have come to light, she believes that Mexico is opening itself up to the lawsuit.
“Mexico goes to great lengths to sacrifice its human rights and the legitimacy of its agencies. In many cases, they don't have the legal right to do what they agree to do, Vasquez said of U.S.-Mexico relations. "That's what I see, unfortunately."
Gonzalez Gutierrez said it was a mistake to look at the situation in this way.
“We are doing this in our own interests,” he said. "I think it's in Mexico's interest to organize flows in an orderly manner and reduce waiting times, and I think it's a mistake to think that we, the Mexican side, are acting like fools and waiting for the United States to solve all its problems."
Like Isakson, Vazquez said it would be much easier for the United States to direct resources to processing asylum seekers rather than creating more ways to stop them.