MPI Report Examines the Fragile but Increasing Capacity in Central America & Mexico to Manage Migration, Sets Out Supporting Role for U.S., International Organizations
WASHINGTON — The region from Panama northward to the U.S.-Mexico border represents a major corridor for unauthorized immigration. While significant attention has trained on U.S. efforts to manage spontaneous flows of irregular migrants and asylum seekers, far less focus has been given to nascent efforts in Central America and Mexico to build migration management and humanitarian protection capacity in recent years.
A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report examines how the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, as well as civil society and international organizations, are approaching migration management. Drawing on interviews with more than 75 stakeholders, the report sketches a vision to lay the foundation for a regional migration system that privileges safe, orderly and legal migration.
“Understanding the still fragile yet growing institutional capacities, legal frameworks and policies of countries in the region is an important starting point for building long-term regional cooperation on migration,” said MPI President Andrew Selee, co-author of the report, Laying the Foundation for Regional Cooperation: Migration Policy and Institutional Capacity in Mexico and Central America.
“While these countries have made their biggest investments in border and immigration enforcement, many of their greatest needs lie in building legal migration pathways, strengthening mechanisms for humanitarian protection, developing return and reintegration strategies and building the capacity to make policy decisions in a clear, consistent and coordinated way,” Selee added.
Mobility in and through the region is becoming increasingly complex. Many migrants and asylum seekers originate from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and are headed to the United States. Others, both from within the region and arriving from the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Asia, are choosing to settle in Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama for temporary or prolonged periods, especially as pathways to the United States grew more limited in recent years. As a result, migration governance issues have taken greater resonance within national governments and civil society in the region.
Of the six countries examined, only Costa Rica has created a clear, sustainable process to develop its migration policy and to coordinate among agencies involved in migration and integration issues. While Costa Rica and Mexico have existing migration infrastructures to leverage in periods of influx, other countries, including Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, are only just beginning to build their institutional capacities.
In addition to addressing countries’ individual capacities and needs, the report’s authors identify four strategies that could help build an effective regional migration system:
- Developing legal, employment-based migration pathways. Such pathways open legal opportunities to move to and work in the United States and other countries within the region, removing some of the pressures to migrate through unauthorized channels.
- Creating humanitarian protection systems. This entails helping to identify those in the greatest danger as close as possible to where they live, in addition to providing options for asylum in each country.
- Professionalizing border and immigration enforcement. Efforts to do so much be consistent with the rule of law and appropriate for dealing with civilian populations, including those with protection needs and other vulnerabilities.
- Investing strategically in development, sustainability and the rule of law. In addition to providing local opportunities for people who may otherwise attempt an unauthorized journey abroad, this should include robust efforts to support the reintegration of returning migrants so they can re-establish their lives and contribute effectively to the development of their communities.
The United States, long the destination for most migration from the region, has a strong stake in supporting an effective regional migration management approach.
“The U.S. government can play an important role as a partner in building a holistic approach to regional migration cooperation and helping improve migration management,” the authors write. “But the driving force for these changes will have to come from the countries themselves, with governments actively engaging international organizations, civil society and each other in this process.”
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/regional-cooperation-migration-capacity-mexico-central-america.
For the report in Spanish, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/cooperacion-regional-migratoria-capacidad-institucional-mexico-centroamerica.
The report is accompanied by individual profiles that delve more deeply into the institutional and legal frameworks, visa categories, humanitarian protection regimes, regulations and migration system mapping for each of the six countries studied. They can be accessed at the main report page.