Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Border Crisis: Migrants or Refugees?

As it has for the past several weeks, the immigration crisis on the United States-Mexico border is dominating U.S. and international headlines this morning.

The Associated Press reports that ahead of a regional summit on the issue in Nicaragua on Thursday, the UN Refugee Agency is calling on U.S. and Central American authorities to recognize the increased numbers of undocumented migrants as refugees, seeking to escape violence in their home countries.

While doing so would carry no legal implications in the U.S., it would likely increase pressure on officials to treat the influx of immigrants as a humanitarian issue and afford them greater protections. This would also make the waves of Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans “among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs,” the AP notes.

Such a switch in tone seems unlikely to take a hold in the current U.S. political climate, however. Just last Saturday Defense One reported that Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, told the news site that he viewed the wave of undocumented immigration as an “existential” threat to national security in the U.S. on par with drug trafficking, and called on Congress to increase funding for his task force.

The New York Times highlights one of the ironies of Congressional Republicans using the situation on the border to criticize the Obama administration’s immigration policies: the fact that a law which makes it more difficult for undocumented minors to be deported swiftly was passed by the House and Senate unanimously in the waning days of the Bush administration.

IPS has a solid report on the threats faced by those making the journey northward, and the impact that the wave of migrants has had on shelters along migration routes in Mexico.

In Chiapas yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto appeared with his Guatemalan counterpart Otto Perez Molina to unveil “Plan Frontera Sur,” a new program which aims to provide more security and access to emergency services to Central American migrants crossing Mexico’s southern border. El Universal reports that one of the pillars of the plan will involve doubling the number of shelters and medical attention centers available along the border, which have been overwhelmed by the recent influx of child migrants. 

Meanwhile, Animal Politico features a column by Sonja Wolf, a researcher with the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy (Insyde). Wolf takes a critical eye at a Mexico’s new comprehensive approach towards migration, launched earlier this year, noting that it suffers from a lack of funding and serious logistical flaws.

News Briefs
  • The L.A. Times reports on a conflict over water resources on the outskirts of Mexico City, noting that poor residents’ fears of having their water source diverted towards wealthier areas mirror widespread distrust that many Mexicans harbor towards the government and economic elites.
  • Lawmakers in the Brazilian state of São Paulo on Thursday passed a law prohibiting the use of masks during protests, amid concerns that it encouraged vandalism and confrontational black-bloc-style tactics against police, Globo reports. News site Ponte notes that similar laws have also passed in Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro states, measures which human rights groups like Conectas have claimed infringe on the right to protest.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero looks at how the response by some Brazilians to the injury of star soccer player Neymar in Friday’s game against Colombia, the result of a knee to the back by Afro-Colombian player Juan Camilo Zuñiga, illustrates persistent racism in the country.
  • The Nicaraguan government and the Chinese firm behind plans to build a rival to the Panama canal unveiled the proposed route of the canal yesterday, and announced that the project will break ground later this year. However, environmentalist critics of the plan claim that it could threaten Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America.
  • McClatchy features a skeptical take on Mexico’s telecommunications law, noting that while an initial law passed last year was billed as a blow to the country’s media monopolies, the debate over accompanying legislation has been marked by intensive lobbying efforts by major media conglomerates. Some lawmakers, especially in the opposition, have accused the ruling PRI of making arrangements with media giant Televisa to protect its interests.
  • While Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has defended Interior Minister Daniel Urresti from critics calling for his ouster because of the murder charges against him, a growing number of civil society actors in the country are demanding his resignation.  As Peruvian news site La Mula reports, the list now includes two former members of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Salomon Lerner Febres and Carlos Tapia.
  • While the U.S. and Venezuela exchanging charges d'affaires last week was described by Venezuelan authorities as part of a new effort to improve ties, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday that the move was not motivated by anything specific and that the U.S. retains “concerns” about accusations made against the U.S. by the Maduro government, BBC Mundo reports.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced yesterday that her government intends to challenge the competency of the International Court of Justice to rule on a border dispute claim filed by Bolivia, which is seeking to recover maritime access, according to La Tercera.