U.S., Mexico Prepare for New Migrant Wave as Inflation Surges

Officials from the administrations of presidents Joe Biden and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in recent days discussed their concern about the impact that rising food and energy prices will have on the region

Migrants seeking asylum wait to be taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near the U.S. and Mexico border fence in Yuma, Arizona.
By Eric Martin
March 17, 2022 | 08:50 AM
Reading time: 2 min.

Bloomberg — The U.S. and Mexican governments are preparing for a surge in undocumented migrants heading for their border in the coming months after faster inflation in key countries in Central America added to economic hardship.

Officials from the administrations of Presidents Joe Biden and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in recent days discussed their concern about the impact that rising food and energy prices will have on the region, according to people familiar with the talks, who asked not to be named without permission to speak publicly. Commodity prices globally have soared with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hurting purchasing power and adding economic strain for developing nations.

A White House official confirmed that the higher cost of living was discussed during a trip by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to Mexico and Costa Rica this week. The governments see it as as an additional factor that will spur migration by people already facing persistent violence and the misery of the Covid-19 pandemic heading into its third year, the official said.

PUBLICIDAD

Recent conversations have included the State Department, the National Security Council and the Mexican Foreign Ministry, the people said.

The State Department referred questions to the White House, and the press office of the Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to a request for comment. The press office of Mexico’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Honduras and El Salvador in February saw the fastest consumer price increases since 2014 and 2011, respectively. Inflation in Mexico was 7.3% in February, near the two-decade high reached in November.

Food Insecurity

Migration typically increases in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring months, when warmer weather makes the journey more feasible than in the winter. Although the U.S. also is confronting inflation at a four-decade high, it’s in part the result of a strong U.S. economy and tight labor market, conditions that have been historical drivers in attracting migrants.

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Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle, which also includes Guatemala, has been responsible for much of the undocumented migration over the past decade. It’s been beset by food insecurity caused by natural disasters, which has deepened poverty. Now the countries, which are all net fuel importers, are dealing with crude oil prices that recently climbed above $120 a barrel.

The U.S. sent an extra $300 million in aid to the region last year, including to mitigate damage from a persistent drought and food shortages, and along with Mexico has been focused on ways to boost development.

After a drop-off at the start of the pandemic in 2020, the number of undocumented migrants stopped at the border soared last year to more than 200,000 people a month in July for the first time in two decades. It’s remained at double or triple pre-pandemic levels in the past few months.

The Mexican government is additionally urging the Biden administration to prepare to fly more migrants directly to their home countries of origin rather than send them south across the border to Mexico as one way to discourage people from making the journey, the people also said.

The U.S. has used a Trump-era policy called Title 42, meant to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in detention facilities, to return migrants from Central America across the border to northern Mexico. That strained the resources of Mexican border cities and led many people to quickly repeat their attempts to enter the U.S.

The Biden administration is preparing for the end of the policy and working on getting countries in Central America to cooperate to receive migrants returned home, the White House official said.

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