May 2024

Marshall Fitz
6 min readJun 5, 2024

Welcome to Emerson Collective’s Immigration Update, a monthly newsletter that seeks to make sense of important immigration-related developments by situating them in broader policy, political, and human contexts.

More evidence of a familiar theme emerged this month. With Congress stuck on the sidelines and national debates over the border mired in partisan hyperbole, President Biden has attempted to fill the breach with a new Executive Order. Meanwhile, national and subnational leaders across the Western Hemisphere — including in the U.S. — are stepping up with immigration strategies and solutions to better manage, stabilize, and integrate the historic numbers of people on the move.

As always, thank you for reading. Now, let’s dive in.

Marshall Fitz

NATIONAL AND CITY-LED SOLUTIONS TO UNPRECEDENTED MIGRATION THROUGHOUT THE AMERICAS

At the beginning of May, ministers from across the Western Hemisphere met in Guatemala to discuss the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, a framework to manage the movement of people in a more coordinated, consistent, and effective way.

Governments presented progress toward their commitments and new initiatives. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who led the U.S. delegation, announced $578 million in humanitarian, development, and economic assistance to support partner countries and host communities respond to urgent humanitarian needs, expand lawful pathways, and support the regularization and integration of migrants. Mexico announced a pilot program to expand labor pathways, offering job opportunities and work permits to Haitian migrants, while Colombia, Costa Rica, and Ecuador announced processes to regularize the status of undocumented migrants. Additionally, the International Organization for Migration launched a new online platform and data portal for the Los Angeles Declaration, which enables countries to obtain, share, and disseminate best practices.

Emerson Collective participated in the official ministerial meeting and a side event to discuss the role of the private sector in mobilizing resources. Alongside the governments of Ecuador and Guatemala, the World Bank, philanthropies, and the private sector, we discussed financial mechanisms to support the integration of migrants. With increasing migration in the Americas, hemispheric cooperation and multi-stakeholder alliances are crucial in deploying funding to key host countries and cities.

Another notable event in May was the Sister Cities International All Americas Summit, which gathered leaders, policymakers, and innovators in San Antonio, Texas, to explore opportunities and tackle common challenges. Emerson Collective joined a panel with mayors, city and national government officials, UN agencies, and the Mayors Migration Council, to discuss new city-led solutions to manage the historic levels of displacement throughout the Americas.

From expanding access to services and promoting migrant-led business and employment opportunities to creating new housing programs and engaging host communities and migrants in policymaking, cities are at the forefront of advancing durable solutions to migration flows.

EVEN WITH NEW EXECUTIVE ORDER, MEXICO REMAINS KEY TO KEEPING BORDER ARRIVALS MANAGEABLE — BUT IS THE CURRENT STRATEGY SUSTAINABLE?

After peaking in December, apprehensions of migrants have fallen dramatically. Why? In significant part because the Mexican Government has increased enforcement — in April, Mexican reports showed a 231 percent increase in the number of stops or encounters of migrants over the same period in 2023. And, Mexico’s foreign minister, Alicia Bárcena, confirmed that Mexico is limiting attempted crossings into the U.S. to 4,000 per day. Part of Mexico’s strategy has included busing migrants to the southern part of Mexico, a temporary tactic that is putting extraordinary and unsustainable pressure on the communities that are receiving these migrants.

The United States plainly depends on Mexico’s continued willingness and capacity to assume responsibility for managing these flows. But ​the timing of Mexico’s efforts also coincides with an important leadership transition. On June 2, Mexico elected MORENA candidate Claudia Sheinbaum as its first woman president. While Sheinbaum’s speech as President-elect signaled her intention to continue cooperating with the U.S. on migration, her government’s broader migration management approach will likely not be clear until she takes office in October.

Recognizing this fluid political context in Mexico and that the drop-off in numbers is likely temporary, President Biden has continued to explore ways to reset the border narrative and to provide structural solutions. Coordinated GOP attacks on the Administration’s handling of the border and immigration over the last three years have succeeded in helping drive down public support for him. Recent polling “found that two-thirds of Americans now disapprove of Biden’s handling of the border, including about 40% of Democrat voters.”

After Senate Republicans blocked tough bipartisan border security bills two times earlier this year, the president signed an executive order this week seeking to accomplish similar objectives. Once Border Patrol encounters 2,500 people trying to cross the border between ports of entry on a single day, severe restrictions to asylum kick in. Under the order and an accompanying interim final rule, after that threshold has been met, people encountered between ports of entry will no longer be eligible for asylum, with some narrow exceptions. Although not permanent, this bar to asylum will remain in effect until the number of daily encounters remains below a certain level for a sustained period.

There are many questions about how the policy will work in practice and whether it can survive an expected litigation challenge. At a minimum, its effectiveness will continue to rely on Mexico’s support and willingness to accept the rapid return of migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected.

Mexico, however, is unlikely to be able to indefinitely absorb the burgeoning numbers of migrants that are reaching its southern border while also receiving increasing removals from the U.S. under the new executive order. This heightens the urgency for the U.S. to deepen its efforts to collaborate with countries to improve regional migration management, including around the LA Declaration framework. Success in building a more orderly and humane system in which governments share responsibility for historic migration flows will require a sustained and multipronged diplomatic, operational, and financial effort throughout the region.

PROMISING NEW ASYLUM-SEEKER PROGRAMS LAUNCHING IN BUFFALO AND DENVER

As we have highlighted in prior updates, Texas has been busing tens of thousands of migrants who cross its border with Mexico to “blue” cities across the country. These cities, lacking the resources and infrastructure have been struggling with the uncoordinated and ad hoc nature of the arrivals.

Cities have adopted different strategies, including providing temporary shelter in hotels and forming spontaneous welcome wagons to greet new arrivals. In an effort to reduce the pressure it has experienced on its shelters, New York City (NYC) — one of the targeted “blue” cities — has been transporting new arrivals to other cities within New York state. While NYC has continued to foot the bill for housing those migrants, those cities lack NYC’s infrastructure and capacity to serve migrants.

NYC officials have now developed a more comprehensive plan. Set to launch in Buffalo, this “$22 million program would enlist a local nonprofit to relocate up to 539 migrants currently living in Buffalo hotels and help them find apartments, jobs and apply for asylum”. The pilot will serve a quarter of the 2,000 migrants who have been living in “ad hoc shelters upstate” since May 2023 and closely mirrors the national resettlement system for refugees. If successful, this could serve as a model for integrating migrant arrivals to a new city.

Denver — another targeted “blue” city — is also launching “a new strategy designed to help people transition into more stable lives.” Nearly 800 people have enrolled in the “first of its kind program” which will provide six months of support to new arrivals, including housing, job training, and legal support. Mayor Mike Johnston had been in the vanguard of city leaders attempting to flip the script on migrant arrivals from perceived crisis to realized economic opportunity. He understands that the people arriving in his city are desperate to work and have skills that could be developed to meet the needs of local employers who are desperate to hire workers.

The creation and implementation of innovative city and state led asylum-seeker programs serves as a reminder that subnational entities may be the most important drivers of progress while Congress remains paralyzed.

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Marshall Fitz

Managing Director of Immigration at the Emerson Collective. Advocate for humanity, sports junky, 1/2-assed Buddhist, proud papa and spouse. Views obv my own.