Photo: David Peinado Romero/Shutterstock.com

Lawful, Safe Pathways Needed to Resolve Border Chaos

NEWS RELEASE — 16 November 2021

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This week, as Canada, Mexico and the United States meet for the long-awaited North American Leaders Summit, is an opportune moment for bold action to create alternative migration pathways for Northern Central Americans for several reasons:

  • Current enforcement measures to deter migration and restrict entry at the borders are not working. 
  • The need for workers, including health and care workers, in the United States favors finding ways of increasing labor migration — a move which has been central to Canada’s immigration policy in recent years as well — which would also provide alternatives to unauthorized migration.
  • The pressure of responding to the Afghan refugee situation in the United States and Canada is leading to discussions of new protection pathways, such as private refugee sponsorship and in-country refugee processing, making this an opportune time to consider bold new ideas for dealing with migration from Central America.
  • Longer-term demographic trends in both North and Central America indicate a need to reassess existing migration mechanisms.

Only 1 in 50 Northern Central Americans in early 2021 had an authorized pathway to cross into the United States.

From January through July 2021, 478,000 citizens of Northern Central America were apprehe­nded at the US border. In that same seven months, Northern Central American citizens were given just 8,641 work visas and 1,520 grants of asylum by the United States.

This meant that only one in 50 people had any lawful channel for entering the United States. For the other 49, there were no visas; there were no grants of asylum.=

— From a forthcoming Task Force report on alternative migration pathways

The time is ripe to strengthen regional approaches to migration in Central America. This can be done in part through an important existing regional mechanism, the MIRPS Support Platform — the Comprehensive Regional Protection and Solutions Framework to Address Forced Displacement in Central America, Marco Integral Regional para la Protección y Soluciones in Spanish — which Canada currently chairs. MIRPS will meet in Guatemala on November 30. 

The North and Central American Task Force on Migration — convened in 2021 as a non-governmental forum of academics, civil society and business leaders, and former policymakers in dialogue with current government officials — has identified ways of strengthening regional responses through analyzing the interplay of political-economic-environmental drivers of migration. The Task Force’s latest report — Regional Cooperation and Co-Responsibility — calls for a new regional mechanism based on the Arctic Council to bolster regional strategies.

Importantly, the Task Force has identified the need for more lawful channels for migration — both for labor possibilities and to protect people whose lives are at risk. Specifically, the Task Force calls for:

  • Canada, Mexico and the United States to examine how to issue more labor migration visas. Ideally these would be provisional rather than temporary visas, so that after a certain number of years of employment and no criminal record, migrants could apply for permanent residence and eventual citizenship. 
  • Given demographic trends in both North and Central America, labor migration programs for care workers, particularly in the eldercare sector – should be developed, or in the case of Canada existing programs should be strengthened. In this regard, Mexico’s recent decision to develop a new national system for care work could be an opportunity to consider migrants as a source of care workers.
  • New Skills Partnership programs are needed to facilitate skilled labor migration and migrant-receiving countries should streamline their systems for verifying credentials of migrants who have been trained elsewhere.
  • The United States and Canada should conduct a thorough review of the eligibility criteria for all protection pathways available to Central Americans, including refugee pathways, complementary protection, parole, and other forms of temporary protection. They should consider innovative ways of increasing access to these programs, for example, by relying on civil society groups to identify those in urgent need of protection.
  • Canada, the United States and Mexico should seek opportunities for collaboration to increase the availability, efficiency, and effectiveness of protection pathways. In particular, they should consider ways of working together on joint assessments and joint piloting of new programs. This can be done through existing forums – such as the MIRPS Support Platform, currently chaired by Canada.
  • Existing pathways – such as family reunification, student pathways, temporary protection and private sponsorship – should be reviewed to determine whether they can be used to meet some of the urgent protection needs in the region.
  • In-country visa processing for Central Americans at risk should be developed or expanded. We have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that much work can be carried out remotely. 

About the North and Central American Task Force on Migration

The North and Central American Task Force on Migration is a non-governmental forum of academics, civil society and business leaders, and former policymakers in dialogue with current government officials created to facilitate a broadly driven solution dialogue among the countries involved in the crisis of migration and forced displacement in the region. Initiated by the World Refugee & Migration Council with the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, the Colegio de México, the Migration Policy Institute and the Inter-American Dialogue, the Task Force will issue concrete recommendations for collective, regional action based on evidentiary research to promote responsibility sharing across North and Central America. 

Photo: David Peinado Romero/Shutterstock.com