Mexico, the Tailor-Made Border

The number of Venezuelans mistreated and deported from Mexico has increased. The reason: AMLO’s government is doing Donald Trump a favor, stopping migrants way before the Río Grande.

Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto.

“Mexico is doing a great job,” says the big guy in the north and the neighbors applaud him. The great undesirable down south, the country exporting bad hombres, has turned into Trump’s migration agency and Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Mexico has given the U.S. what no other government in the world could: a tailor-made border. 

Its mission is to expel undocumented immigrants, keep the “integrity” of the world’s most unequal border, and protect the prosperity of the signatories of the free trade agreement. 

Oh, Mexico, so far from God and so American-border-patrol. 

Build the wall!

It all began with Trump’s declaration of a tariff war: either Mexico detains and deports migrants on its soil or a commercial debacle begins. This type of neurotic boldness, like suspending aid funds for Honduras and El Salvador, or threatening Guatemala with prohibiting or charging a commission on remittances, have been Trump’s solutions to the migration crisis. Not by striking a deal with the parties involved —as equals— and structured proposals, but with a spin of gunboat diplomacy. 

The American southern border is no longer in the U.S. side of the Río Grande, the wall isn’t even in California. It’s in Chiapas, Mexico City, and Cancun, slowly reaching Guatemala City and even Tegucigalpa and San Salvador. The Northern Triangle in Central America will continue to be a hot zone, but with a good boy medal from the U.S. border patrol.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Mexico has given the U.S. what no other government in the world could: a tailor-made border. 

“You’re doing a great job,” repeats Trump, seeing how the bad men filter is working. Central American, African, South American, it doesn’t matter before the eyes of the Great Deporter. The important thing is to detain them, kick them out and dissuade them from pursuing their American dream. And Mexico, not known as a sanctuary of human rights for migrants, has behaved accordingly. 

“Mexico will pay for the wall,” Trump promised while campaigning. He just didn’t say how. 

A Raspy Voice 

“Even if they come from Mars, we will deport them.” 

That was the headline on Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) during the inauguration of a migrant photography exposition (the irony!). The commissioner mentioned immigrants from India, Cameroon and Africa (sic) and his voice—he used to be commissioner of federal prisons before joining the INM—is that of a stricter, harsher, heavier policy. It’s the tone of a foreman with a mission: send people back in exchange for his land’s economic stability. Nothing to do with humanitarian, pro-migrant views, and very different from the rhetoric of the Fourth Transformation—AMLO’s moniker for his government.

That’s the formula: USMCA before human rights. 

The Airport, The Holding Cell 

A video of a young Venezuelan detained and humiliated at the Cancun airport wasn’t the first case of Venezuelan migrants (and travelers) in Mexican airports, but it sure was the most known. 

Were they on vacation? Were they going to illegally cross? Were they going to stay illegally in Mexico? Nobody knows. 

If the visitors lack the right profile, they’ll get deported. No questions, no trial, no appeal; your belongings are seized and it’s a dark room away from the world until the flight back. It prevents a headache (and tons of paperwork) for a country saturated with over 30,000 asylum applications so far this year, not only from Venezuelans. 

If the visitors lack the right profile, they’ll get deported. No questions, no trial, no appeal.

There are no exact numbers of mistreated Venezuelan migrants upon their arrival to Mexico, but there’s an alarming figure: over 500 Venezuelans have been denied entry in the last two months, according to NGO Organización Sumando Venezuela. This doesn’t follow an explicit threat, like other nationalities did receive. In the imaginary queue of Mexican immigration, it’s Central Americans first, then Colombians, then Cubans. After four years of sustained migration, Venezuelans are barely shedding their skin from tourists to refugees. 

But the problem is that we’re starting to arrive to a country where migrants are less welcome every day, in larger numbers of people with very little resources.

Yes, we’re the undesirables now. 

And standing in front of the officer and the wall, all migrants are brown. 

Mexico Lindo, Tricky, and Querido

In the early morning queues for the INM, the parade of blue and burgundy passports is longer every day. Caribbean accents, arrogant voices, curvy waists, beards, outfits: many features that make a Venezuelan recognize another from miles away. 

The community has grown a lot. Even if Mexico is an expensive destination, the possibility of finding a relatively short passageway to migratory stability through asylum made it a lot more attractive in the last couple of years, and the approval rate of international protection applications for Venezuelans had reached a 98%, thanks to the Cartagena Declaration, which recognizes people from failed states as refugees. 

But that has changed now. Officers have heavier workloads and less patience, and COMAR (Mexican Commission for Aiding Refugees) is on the verge of collapse. That’s why there are more Venezuelans at the U.S. border. 

Sending people back in airports—in terminals with flights from South America—is the fastest way to avoid a swarm of asylum applicants and poor migrants who are potential undocumented immigrants. Also, it’s part of the job of protecting the U.S. border. Venezuelans represent the ancestral fear of every nation with free transit: a migrant who wants to stay, who needs to stay. Goodbye, Venezuelan tourist: we need to keep you in check for now. 

Venezuelans represent the ancestral fear of every nation with free transit: a migrant who wants to stay, who needs to stay.

The complaints from Venezuelans are serious and alike: threats from officers whose names are unknown, stolen money, long hours waiting in a cold, overcrowded airport room with no food and dirty mats, humiliation and insults. It’s not just about the rejection, it’s about the viciousness. In migratory conflicts, violence is a powerful deterrent; when I want you to know that you’re not welcome, I make you spread the message for me. It’s humiliation as preemptive migration control, a cheaper method to keep others at bay. 

The Border Coda

Things aren’t black or white. The problem is not foreigners, the problem seems to be the poor immigrants. If you have an American visa, you can come into the country after a light questioning. If you’re flying from the U.S., officers trust you. If this border cocktail had happened five, ten, fifteen years ago, Venezuelans would enter Mexico without fear, with the same guarantees that Europeans, Asians or Americans get. 

But these are troubled times, with no extra miles on our credit cards. We’re in bad shape and from a criminal state. We smell and look like refugees. We wear the undesirable costume. 

And all of that is stamped on our passports.