President Trump has decided to blame Mexico for the border crisis, rescinding and then reiterating his threat to impose tariffs on America’s neighbor to the south if it doesn’t stop migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle from coming. Yet Mexico’s enforcement of immigration laws against Central Americans has been more vigorous than the United States for some time.
In 2018, Mexico deported more immigrants back to the Northern Triangle than the United States did, and it deported nearly all the immigrants who it apprehended in that year. The United States did not. It’s just not true that Mexico is less vigorous in its anti-immigration efforts than the Trump administration.
Indeed, from 2004 to 2018, Mexico deported 1.7 million Central Americans back to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The comparable U.S. figure was just 1.1 million. As Figure 1 shows, the gap has narrowed in recent years, but in 2018, Mexico still deported 6,177 more Northern Triangle migrants than the United States did in that year. Mexico also deported more in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The United States is a richer country with a much larger immigrant population from the Northern Triangle than the Mexico (3 million compared to 80,000, according to the United Nations), yet it has still not deported nearly as many as its poorer neighbor to the south.
Moreover, Mexico deported 1.75 million of 1.85 million apprehensions during the same period, meaning that 94 percent of apprehensions are removed (Figure 3). Meanwhile, the United States has routinely apprehended at the border far more Central Americans than it has deported in recent years (Figure 2). The U.S. deported 1.1 million Central Americans from 2004 to 2018, while it apprehended 1.7 million at the border alone (about 10 percent are apprehended in the interior).
President Trump is wrong to blame Mexico for the U.S. inability to enforce its own immigration laws or deter Central Americans. Mexico is carrying out more deportations of Central Americans than the United States is, and it is more likely to deport those who it apprehends than the United States is. The United States should work with Mexico to make legal immigration options more readily available for Central Americans to deter illegal immigration.