New challenges for migration policy in Mexico, between emigration, immigration, transit migration, and return migration – Insights from research and practice in Mexico and Germany

Conclusions from the workshop organized by GIZ, Heinrich Böll Foundation, and GIGA1:
Mexico City, Museo Franz Mayer, 25 and 26 October 2018

By: Luicy Pedroza, Pau Palop García & So Young Chang

On October 25 and 26 of 2018, experts working in the field of migration policy development—ranging from public administration, civil society, academia to international cooperation—came together in Mexico City for a two-day workshop organized by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (hereafter GIZ), Heinrich Böll Foundation, and German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA). The objective was to approach the topic of migration from multiple angles and discuss the role of policy coherence in migration governance. By bringing together a diverse group of actors and stakeholders, the workshop sought to encourage cross-sectoral collaboration among the participants and generate a paradigm shift in how migration policies are studied and developed.

The workshop was organized around four migrant groups: immigrants, emigrants, transit migrants, and returnees. While these groups may have different experiences and interests, the aim was to reflect on shared challenges for all migrants and to articulate universal principles that should inform policies towards the entire range of migrant experiences. In addition, the workshop problematized the lack of policy coherence between policy formulation and implementation in Mexico. Public interest in migration management has been reaching new heights, and the workshop’s timing coincided with the movement of a migrant caravan from Central America across the border into Mexico, lending special urgency to the topic. As Mexico transitions from being primarily a country of emigration to a country of destination for immigrants, transit migrants, asylum seekers, and voluntary and forced returnees, the process of migration policy design and execution deserves a long-term and broadened perspective focused on coherence rather than a patchwork of reactionary and ad hoc measures.

In this brief document, the authors have summarized the most important conclusions from the workshop to be circulated among those with an interest in the fast-changing migration policy landscape of Mexico.

Current structural context of migration policies: Challenges and Obstacles

  • At a high level of inter-state dynamics, migration policies in Mexico are informed by bilateral and regional interests, for example the political role of the United States in Central America has an enormous influence in Mexico in terms of pressures to curb migration at the southern border.
  • At the social and structural level, the entire region of Mesoamerica is experiencing systematic violence that is directly related to the mass migration of unaccompanied minors in the preceding years, as families attempt to seek to secure a better life for their children and youth away from the snares of expanding criminal networks.
  • At the socioeconomic level, the development models of resource extraction and trade liberalization have devastated the agricultural sector and led to forced displacement in the region. What began as internal migration has now transitioned to international migration.
  • At the state level, states in the region, especially those undergoing high rates of emigration, have reneged on their responsibility to provide security and development for their citizens to pursue a dignified life in their own countries.
  • This lack of accountability manifests in various ways, the clearest example being impunity on the part of migration authorities who abuse their position of power.
  • In addition to this impunity are bureaucratic shortcomings and an absence of implementation criteria that address the current migration realities unfolding in Mexico. The principles being applied in practice contradict the spirit of the law. For example, while the migration law in Mexico guarantees basic rights of migrants, the National Institute of Migration (INAMI for short) is preoccupied with deportations and detentions. Other obstacles include complicated administrative procedures for issuing visas and a chronic backlog in processing asylum applications.
  • A great challenge is to change the political culture attitude among the Mexican population, such that foreigners are not met with immediate suspicion. False information regarding migrants spreading through social media networks has contributed to the criminalization of migrants. It is important to valorize the experience of each individual migrant and to show that migrants have the potential to offer much to society. While this will not happen overnight, it is not impossible, as the government has already succeeded in converting the image of emigrants from traitors to patriotic leaders.

Possible action plan for migration policy

  • While some participants propose to consider migration in the framework of sustainable development, as in the case of the National Plan for Development, these recommendations carry the risk of reducing migrants to economic factors. Beyond treating it as a factor of development, migration policy needs to become a priority at the constitutional level, mobilizing government agencies both horizontally and vertically to ensure the inclusion of and attention to all migrant groups. A concrete solution would be for Mexico to constitutionally acknowledge its own status as a country of migrations, as a country of emigration, transit, asylum, and immigration. From top down starting with the federal administration, this focus on migration policy can trickle down to local administrations.
  • Many participants expressed that while the migration laws are not perfect, they are nevertheless quite advanced. In fact, the most pressing issue lies in the discrepancy between the written law and implementation, which amounts to policy incoherence.
  • The most critical gap in policy formulation concerns the vulnerable situation of transit migrants.
  • Beyond facilitating the entry of immigrants, it is also important to develop policies for integration, including for returning Mexican nationals who often face the challenge of understanding a society that they have had little to no contact with.
  • At the administrative level, it is necessary to improve the cooperation and task distribution between government agencies. Best practices in this area come from Chile and Peru where there are inter-ministerial committees created to oversee the implementation of migration policy in all relevant agencies and departments.
  • Given the prevailing context of violence in Mexico, the peacebuilding and reconciliation objectives of a government need to balance the needs of communities with migration realities. There are examples in other countries where the right not to migrate has been contemplated.
  • While the pursuit of greater policy coherence in terms of both guiding principles and implementation requires commitment and action at the highest levels of government (at the constitutional and federal levels, respectively), many participants noted that the best practices often originate from the local level, where various municipalities and states need to respond immediately in order to accommodate diverse migrant groups.
  • At the level of lived experience, a fundamental and overarching problem that affects all the migrant groups concerned—immigrants, emigrants, returnees, and transit migrants—is the difficulty of status regularization and/or documentation. In some cases, returnees have found that their identification documents are not recognized by certain authorities.
  • With regard to encounters with public authorities such as INAMI, Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), consular networks, and other government agencies, all migrant groups stress the need for government procedures to operate in an environment of dignity and respect.

Cooperation among actors in the international arena

  • The first task is to generate more information and data on the different migrant groups composing the contemporary migration context in Mexico. While it is widely acknowledged that Mexico is no longer primarily a country of emigration, there is still a gap in knowledge generation about other migrant profiles. This need is in line with Mexico’s commitment to the Global Compact for Safe and Orderly Migration.
  • International cooperation can contribute to greater policy coherence for migration governance in Mexico by designating funds for legal counsel in agencies like INAMI and COMAR, in particular for the training of legal experts who can monitor the implementation of migration policies. These personnel can assist migrants in their application for legal status and also support with appealing decisions.
  • Civil society and state organizations alike can support independent journalism and in particular, support the compiling and distributing of accurate information about migration to the public through mass media channels, namely on the Internet.
  • At the cultural level, it is necessary to valorize the contributions of different migrant groups to society at large. While still few and far between, cities like Puebla, Tijuana, and Mexico City are success stories in promoting multiculturalism.

The important role of civil society

  • It is essential to include migrant voices in the formulation of migration policy, so as to have a more accurate picture of policy impact and effectiveness. While cooperation among policymakers, academics, and other experts is necessary for the generating a paradigm shift and informing a more inclusive legal framework for migration, the stories of migrants who have lived through the physical and bureaucratic reality of migration need to be embedded into policy processes.
    • For example, many countries operate consultative bodies of migrants at various levels of government, with varying results. Not all consultative bodies are made equal. Factors that determine the influence and capacity of these bodies include the composition of the bodies (e.g. representation based on gender, geographic location, etc.), the frequency of meetings, the content of demands generated in these meetings, and the accountability of authorities in responding to the recommendations.

  1. This document presents the vision and interpretation of solely the authors listed and does not represent the official position of any institution involved in the organization of the workshop. ↩︎


Workshop | - | 9:30 a.m.
In cooperation with Heinrich Böll Stiftung and GIZ
Mexico City


Every Immigrant Is an Emigrant: How Migration Policies Shape the Paths to Integration (IMISEM)