by Megan Lee
Mexico is essential for relations between the United States and all other Latin American countries. The current state of affairs in Mexico is turbulent due to a rise in cartel control and coyote smugglers that have presented dangers to both migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and to the country’s safety due to arms dealing, drug smuggling, kidnapping, and more. With the economic situation in Mexico, many citizens fall victim to working for cartels, become coyote smugglers for income, or join the influx of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. While the U.S. has provided financial support to Mexico, it has not stopped the violence, exacerbating the war between the Mexican government and powerful Mexican cartels.
Kidnappings have increased in Mexico, causing heightened border concerns and straining diplomatic relations. Recently, a Texas man was kidnapped by a Mexican cartel after being overheard bragging about stealing money from the cartel. The kidnapping happened within two hours of this man’s phone conversation in Laredo, Texas, a city on the Mexican border. While one man was captured by U.S. police, the majority of the group that kidnapped Erik Ramirez remains at large. The group is a part of one of the most powerful organizations in Mexico. Their ability to kidnap Ramirez in a short time and mostly remain undetained raises concerns for border security and could lead to further border restrictions, affecting immigrants seeking refuge on the border.
Cartels exert a lot of control over Mexican society and within the Mexican government. When the infamous cartel leader El Chapo’s son Ovidio Guzman was arrested, the Sinaloa cartel waged war on the city of Culiacán. Several people were killed, gunfire was exchanged with security forces for several hours, the Culiacán airport was locked down, and roads were blocked by armed vehicles all in an attempt to rescue Guzman or force the government to release him as they had done previously in his arrest of 2019. Though unrecognized as at fault for this violent altercation, the U.S. is partially to blame for the attack. Before the arrest, the U.S. had offered a reward for the arrest of Guzman due to the rise in fentanyl overdoses here. Furthermore, the U.S. has been delivering weapons over the border, many of which land in the streets of Mexico further contributing to the tense and violent environment in Mexico’s cities. While gun dealers have benefited from this war, U.S. tourists and Mexican residents continue to suffer from unnecessary violence and death.
Additionally, coyote smugglers pose a threat to the safety of migrants. Not only are coyotes smuggling migrants across the border under inhumane conditions and taking advantage of their precarious situation, but some coyotes are also holding migrants hostage until their “debt” is paid, physically assaulting the migrants, raping women, and other inhumane acts. In some ways, the coyote business has advanced in its organization by establishing transportation, stash houses, and more. These advancements have come with a hefty price, making transportation for immigrants reach thousands of dollars. Cities near the border such as Uvalde, Texas, have faced a multitude of lockdowns due to chases between coyotes and police. The death of over 50 migrants in San Antonio in 2022 is an example of the rising danger between strict U.S. border policies and the lengths human smugglers are willing to go to in order to make a profit. While legislation has tried to solve these border issues, coyotes consistently find a way to transport migrants. Legislation restricting border access and increasing border patrol endangers immigrants by making them vulnerable to cartel recruiters, coyotes, and the inhumane treatment they will ultimately face if they survive the journey long enough to make it to the border.
Calling for more intervention and partnership from the United States is not the solution to Mexico’s problems. Some U.S. policies have attempted to overstep political boundaries and influence the inner workings of Mexico’s government and manipulate its policies to benefit the GOP’s immigration agenda and the urge to blame Mexico for the fentanyl drug crisis. These tactics were strongly presented during former President Trump’s tenure where he made several harsh comments on the state of migration and the drug crisis, including threats to invade Mexico and silence the issue as the U.S. did with other military operations. The marijuana drug trade was fueled by markets in the U.S. and then restricted by U.S. policies. By restricting those markets violence increased in Mexico. The market has now shifted towards the increased fentanyl demand, and now, the synthetic opioid feeds violence on the streets of both Mexico and the U.S. All these issues have led to frantic migration, yet the U.S.’s closed border policies block those it has hurt most from finding refuge. U.S. border policies have done nothing but exacerbate current circumstances.
The U.S. government needs to make changes to its border policies and practices, but activists can not trust our government to make the necessary changes. U.S. foreign policy has caused great damage in many countries. In the case of Mexico, the U.S. continues to worsen the situation by refusing to fix its border policies and keeping migrants in inhumane locations. Under Covid-19, Title 42 worsened the immigration issue on the border by turning away migrants under the guise of stopping the spread of the coronavirus. As of now, Title 42 is over, and migrants that were once turned away have returned. Now the U.S. returns to Title 8, a policy that carries strict punishment for illegal entry and long processing times for those who attempt to enter with legality.
With Biden’s weak attempts to make changes in border policies, asylum seekers continue to face the same inhumane treatment as they did under the Trump administration. It is past time to fix these policies, but as constituents and activists what choices do we have? Continue voting for Democrats who promise to fix the issue yet remain inactive and stagnant once elected? Protest, and continue to make small steps towards change? Lives are on the line yet there are no concrete solutions to provide for the migrants who seek protection within our borders.
With an intractable federal government in Washington DC our colleague Sunny Robinson suggests we seek reform closer to home:
“At the local level here in Massachusetts we will again this year have the opportunity to advance the Safe Communities Act to assure our local police and sheriffs’ departments are prohibited from doing the work of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as well as pass a Language Access bill that will require state agencies to provide assistance and materials in all commonly occurring languages. If we truly believe in fostering equality and diversity, these are steps we must take.
None of us can do these things alone. We all need centers of collective action. Join us in organizations like MAPA’s LA/CWG or MIRA (Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy). Contribute to border organizations like Annunciation House or Hope Border institute in El Paso and Haitian Bridge Alliance in L.A.
Join us in MAPA’s Latin America Caribbean Working Group which meets the first Monday of every month by zoom at 5:15-6:45. Contact Derek Sexton at email@example.com.”
Megan Lee studies International Affairs and Criminal Justice with a minor in Spanish at Northeastern University and is an intern at MAPA.