Mexican President Hands Biden Immigration Gift During Election Year

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Jason Hopkins Immigration Reporter
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The leader of Mexico has dramatically ramped up apprehensions of U.S.-bound migrants, providing relief to President Joe Biden as he fights for re-election.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has overseen an unprecedented level of migrant apprehensions in the 2024 calendar year which has, in turn, led to a decrease in migrant encounters for U.S. federal immigration authorities. The drop in migrant flow has helped ease a major headache for Biden as he’s faced poor polling on the migration issue, but questions remain whether the will to crack down on illegal immigration by Mexican leaders will remain after the U.S. election. (RELATED: Biden Admin Failing To Properly Monitor Afghan Evacuees In US, Watchdog Finds)

There were slightly less than 180,000 migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in the month of April, marking a light drop in encounters from the month before and the lowest rate of April encounters since 2021, according to the latest monthly data provided by Customs and Border Protection. May’s numbers are expected to be released in the coming days.

The decline in migrant numbers seen by American immigration authorities has mostly coincided with what’s been a substantial increase in immigration enforcement by their Mexican counterparts.

For the fourth month in a row, Mexico’s Migration Policy Unit encountered about 120,000 migrants, according to data compiled by the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Roughly one year ago, Mexican officials had never reported apprehending or encountering over 52,201 migrants in a single month.

The roughly 481,000 migrants Mexico reportedly stopped or encountered between January and April represents a 231% increase over the same period last year.

The assistance from Lopez Obrador’s government comes at a time when Biden is facing a tough reelection, with polls indicating the southern border crisis is hurting his brand. Recent surveys show illegal immigration is now a top concern for Americans and most voters believe former President Donald Trump would better handle the issue than the current occupant of the White House.

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 12: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Oval Office at the White House on July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kelponis-Pool/Getty Images)

The illegal immigration crisis has seemingly pushed Americans to the right on the issue, with polls showing many voters now favoring enforcement tactics championed by Trump, such as mass deportations, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, detention camps for illegal immigrants awaiting removal and the use of military troops to help with deportation efforts.

President Trump had threatened harsh tariffs against the Mexican government unless they acquiesced to his border security demands, forcing their leaders to take “strong measures” against the flow of Central American migrants passing through their country.

(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 6:Hundreds of asylum seekers line up outside of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building on June 6, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Trump had also established Migrant Protection Protocols — more popularly known as the Remain in Mexico policy — that kept many asylum seekers in Mexico as they awaited their immigration court proceedings, eliminating a major incentive for illegal immigration, but the Biden administration discontinued that initiative. Biden signed a slate of executive orders on his first day in office that largely dismantled Trump’s immigration agenda.

The Biden administration has since experienced record levels of illegal immigration, prompting many Democrats in Congress to formally condemn his handling of the issue.

The Mexican help in border enforcement is coming at an opportune moment for Biden as he faces a close election against a Republican challenger who is well known for being an immigration hardliner, and some experts are questioning the timing.

“The political motivations behind Mexico’s recent crackdown on migration seem undeniable given the timing,” Andres Martinez-Fernandez, a senior policy analyst on Latin America for the Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. Martinez-Fernandez also noted the uptick in Mexican enforcement is giving Biden the added benefit of avoiding a dramatic crackdown in enforcement himself, a move that would offend a left-wing base that is sympathetic to migrants.

“President Biden seems to be actively avoiding creating scenes of confrontations with migrants at the US border, given the likely backlash from his base. Instead, the Biden administration is effectively outsourcing migration enforcement to the Mexican government, and by doing so has given President Lopez Obrador incredible leverage over the U.S., Martinez-Fernandez said.

Lopez Obrador has made exorbitant demands in the past in exchange for stemming the flow of illegal immigration into the U.S.

CIUDAD ACUNA, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 19: Immigrants, mostly from Haiti gather on the bank of the Rio Grande on September 19, 2021 in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, across the border from Del Rio, Texas. As U.S. immigration authorities began deporting immigrants back to Haiti from Del Rio, thousands more waited in a camp under an international bridge in Del Rio and others crossed the river back into Mexico. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

CIUDAD ACUNA, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 19: Immigrants, mostly from Haiti gather on the bank of the Rio Grande on September 19, 2021 in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, across the border from Del Rio, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

During a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this year, the leftist Mexican president proposed his government could step up enforcement measures if the U.S. committed $20 billion annually to impoverished Latin American and Caribbean countries, lifted sanctions on the socialist Venezuelan government, ended the Cuban embargo and legalized millions of Mexican nationals living unlawfully in the U.S.

Trump, in reaction to those demands, said they came from a “lack of respect” for Biden and that his GOP administration wouldn’t give “10 cents” to Mexico.

Mexico is holding a presidential election of its own on Sunday. Term-limited Lopez Obrador will soon be stepping down, and the woman he’s endorsed to succeed him, Claudia Sheinbaum, is leading in the polls.

“When it comes to U.S.-Mexico relations, the Biden administration does not use the proverbial stick, so the question is what carrots the U.S. has handed over to the Lopez Obrador government to secure this newfound support in stemming migration,” Martinez-Fernandez said of the situation. “While the Biden administration has so far not handed over billions in cash to Latin America, the senior policy analyst noted that the White House has “pulled back” pressure on Mexico over narco-corruption, fentanyl trafficking and trade disputes.

As the U.S. experiences a drop in migrant encounters at the southern border, it remains to be seen whether this trend will continue after the presidential election. Martinez-Fernandez warned of a return to massive migrant numbers following the presidential election.

“Given the artificial nature of Mexico’s current migration crackdown, as well as the continued permissiveness of Biden’s border policies, the U.S. could very likely face another massive spike in migration after November or whenever the Mexican government changes its mind,” he said.

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