Panama City/Washington/Port-au-Prince, Jun 3 (EFE).- The Americas is currently experiencing one of its biggest-ever migration crises, with hundreds of thousands of undocumented people fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands and seeking a better life in the United States.
The issue is weighing heavily on the minds of policy-makers and will be a major topic of debate at next week’s Summit of the Americas, which will run from June 6-10 in Los Angeles and be attended by leaders from across the region.
One of the main focal points of the immigration crisis is Haiti, where brutal gang violence, hunger, political instability and the lingering effects of a devastating 2021 earthquake are causing a mass exodus.
Large numbers of Haitians have joined US-bound caravans that make their way through Mexico, while in recent months many people from that impoverished country have increasingly opted for a dangerous Caribbean voyage to the shores of Florida or Puerto Rico in makeshift vessels.
The US Coast Guard has intercepted 3,900 Haitians thus far in 2022 – more than double the number in 2021 – and a total of 175 migrants from that Caribbean nation have died or gone missing at sea since Jan. 1.
Another perilous route for Haitian migrants is the Darien Gap, a roadless wilderness of dense rainforest and jungle-covered mountains that forms a natural border between Panama and Colombia.
Despite the seemingly impenetrable wilderness and the presence of illegal armed groups, the Panamanian government says 133,000 undocumented migrants – most of them Haitians – made their way across that border region in 2021, roughly equivalent to the total for the entire preceding decade.
Once into the heart of Central America, they join caravans made up of citizens from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala who are fleeing severe poverty and gang violence and heading northward in hopes of forging a better life in the US.
This reality has led to record migrant flows into Mexico, which deported more than 114,000 foreigners in 2021, according to the Government Secretariat’s Migration Policy Unit.
In the US, immigration is one of the country’s most contentious issues, with many Republican voters wanting an impenetrable wall spanning the entire border and other measures to stamp out illegal immigration.
Most Democrats, by contrast, want a comprehensive immigration law overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants already in the US and an end to programs that prevent people fleeing violence in their homelands from seeking asylum.
A federal court ruling in Louisiana on May 20 that blocked President Joe Biden’s administration from ending Title 42 – invoked by his predecessor, Donald Trump, at the start of the pandemic to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants from the US due to health protocols – was a crushing blow for many would-be refugees.
Under that measure, US Customs and Border Protection did not have to process requests from people who showed up at the border wanting to apply for asylum.
Biden also has been unsuccessful so far in his effort to eliminate Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”
Since 2019, that Trump-era policy has required asylum seekers to stay for months in Mexico in precarious conditions until their US immigration court date.
Although the Biden administration formally ended that policy a year ago, a Texas court ruled last August that MPP was improperly terminated and the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.
That conservative-majority high court is expected to issue a final ruling this summer on whether the current government can end the program. EFE