President Donald Trump’s deal with Mexico faces such huge logistical hurdles that neither country may be able to carry out its promises.
One key part of the deal is Mexico’s agreement to deploy its newly formed national guard to intercept and possibly deport migrants who cross its southern border. But Mexico may not have that force trained and ready to deal with a population of asylum seekers.
The deal will also expand the Trump administration’s policy of keeping migrants waiting in Mexico while their asylum applications are processed in the U.S. But Mexico is already struggling to handle more than 11,000 migrants who the U.S. has dumped back into that country since Trump rolled out the program in January.
Neither the U.S. nor Mexico has offered a detailed plan for how the counter-migration strategy will be implemented, even as both countries face a tight timeline to produce results. Officials from the two countries are expected to meet in 45 days to evaluate the effect on migrant flows, and the U.S. will monitor results daily.
But border watchers say they have no idea how Mexico will handle the joint demands, particularly as the massive case backloads in U.S. immigration courts could keep migrants waiting south of the U.S. border for months or even years.
“To try to imagine how they’re going to double or even triple those numbers over the next few months is kind of mind boggling,” said Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. “I just literally don’t know where all those people are going to go.”
Here’s a closer look at obstacles to implementing the agreement:
1. Mexico’s capacity to absorb migrants
The most immediate pressure point will be on Mexican border communities. As part of the deal reached Friday, the U.S. vowed unilaterally to expand its “remain in Mexico” program — formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols — from targeted areas to the entire southwest border.
More than 11,000 migrants have been forced to wait in Mexico under the program since its launch in January, according to the Mexican government. But that’s just with it operating in Border Patrol’s San Diego and El Centro sectors in California, and its El Paso sector in Texas and New Mexico.
That number is poised to skyrocket in the coming weeks, even as U.S. immigration courts already face a massive case backlog that has worsened in recent years.
The Hope Border Institute, a pro-migrant group operating around El Paso, Texas, and across the border in Ciudad Juárez, has encountered migrants sent to Juárez with U.S. court hearings scheduled for April 2020 — nearly one year ahead.
“How do you house and feed and potentially gainfully employ those people if they’ve got a very long time to wait?” said Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico who resigned in May 2018. “I have no idea to what extent Mexican border cities and crossings are ready for that, although I suspect they’re not.”