This attraction to the border for many migrants from Mexico was clear even before Mr Biden was elected. In 2018, before Mr. López Obrador took office, and the Mexican economy grew, albeit slowly, US customs and border protection apprehended about 18,500 migrants from Mexico on average per month. In 2019, the average monthly number of detained migrants from Mexico increased slightly, and their share in the annual total apprehensions declined, in part due to AMLO’s initial policy of opening arms to Central Americans who started in May. That month, apprehensions among Central Americans skyrocketed to 104,000 from 76,000 in April.
This led to Mr. Trump going ballistic and threatening to slap tariffs of up to 25% on all goods imported from Mexico. It was enough for Mr. López Obrador to give in, to deploy more troops on the southern and northern borders of the country to prevent the Central Americans from reaching the United States and to accept the shameful protocol of protection of the migrations, in which the applicants of ‘asylum must remain in makeshift camps in crime-infested border towns, often in unsanitary conditions, awaiting their hearing in Mexico.
In June, the apprehensions of migrants from Central America subsequently fell to only 3,753 people. Meanwhile, however, nearly 298,000 migrants from Mexico were detained last year, the highest annual total since 2010. They represented 65% of all migrants apprehended at the border. As long as the American and Mexican economies move in opposite directions, people will continue to move north in search of opportunity.
The past can offer a glimpse of what is to come. In the mid-1990s, the Mexican economy collapsed in the so-called tequila crisis, while the United States profited from the Clinton boom. It was around this time that undocumented migration from Mexico surged, with the total unauthorized population rising from 5.7 million in 1995 to 8.4 million at the turn of this century.
Today, Mexico is mired in its worst depression since the 1930s, having contracted more than 8 percent in 2020. Its recovery is expected to be slow. Meanwhile, the United States is experiencing a tremendous economic recovery, after declining a modest 3.5% last year.
Who will build the new American highways and bridges? Who will occupy the construction sites scattered along its horizons? And who will serve customers in the myriad of restaurants Americans will flock to when they reopen? Many of them will be Mexican migrants.
There is, however, a big difference between the mid-90s and now: AMLO. Corruption may be endemic in Mexico, but its increasingly nationalist, statist, populist, and authoritarian positions are beginning to threaten Mexico’s barely 25-year-old democracy by destroying institutions of transparency and systems of checks and balances. Even during the corrupt years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency, democratic institutions were respected. We should not judge these developments lightly.