We’re well into the dog days of summer and it’s hard to believe that August is just a few days away. Yet, there is enough going on within U.S.-Mexico relations to set the tone for the balance of the year, and likely into 2022.
The Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading quickly worldwide, leading to new outbreaks and raising questions about when countries will be able to fully emerge from the pandemic.
Mexico is experiencing a third wave of cases and increased hospitalizations. Most of the new infections have been in Mexicans between 18 and 39 who have not yet become eligible for the vaccine. Only 19 percent of people in Mexico are fully vaccinated and 33 percent have received one shot. The latest spike in cases is alarming for a country that already lost at least 238,000 lives to COVID-19. The Health Ministry estimates that the true death toll is 60 percent higher.
The Delta variant and increase in cases appear to have complicated the reopening of the U.S.-Mexico land border to nonessential travel. On July 21, the Biden administration renewed border restrictions, which have been extended monthly since March 2020. These restrictions are facing mounting opposition from political and business leaders in cities like San Diego and Laredo.
On immigration, June set the record for monthly crossings at the border in recent history with 188,829 encounters. Yet, over a third of individuals were double or triple counted due to Title 42, a public health order that gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to immediately expel individuals to Mexico and their countries of origin. According to Customs and Border Protection, the number of unique encounters was 123,828.
The Biden administration continues to send the message to migrants that they shouldn’t come to the U.S. It is reportedly contemplating keeping in place Title 42 restrictions at the border. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas warned that migrants who come by sea won’t be permitted to enter the U.S. His comments came after the assassination of the president of Haiti and protests in Cuba, though there hasn’t yet been an increase in arrivals from those countries by sea.
A federal judge in Texas recently blocked new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leaving tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children in limbo. This ruling comes as Democrats are assessing whether to use the budget reconciliation process—which would require only a simple majority— to pass immigration reform.
On foreign policy, Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration’s recent positions are at odds with the U.S. The Mexican foreign minister expressed support for the Cuban government amidst recent protests and interest in restoring diplomatic and commercial relations with North Korea. This represents another bump in the road for the Biden administration, which has been working to broaden the bilateral agenda.
On a more positive yet still challenging note, U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trade ministers met in Mexico City on July 7th to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the USMCA trade agreement. Over the coming year, USMCA could help fuel North America’s economic recovery. Yet, challenges remain. The three countries must continue to resolve trade disputes, adapt regional supply chains, and reach an agreement on rules of origin for cars.
López Obrador’s energy policy poses another challenge. Recently, his administration awarded a contract for a major oil find to state-owned PEMEX instead of a private consortium led by the U.S. company that first discovered it. Last week, a bi-partisan group of U.S. congressman and senators urged Biden to engage the Mexican president more directly on the issue of energy and López Obrador’s efforts to stifle private investment in the sector.
At White & Case Mexico City, we are tracking the latest developments to provide our clients with the best legal advice on doing business in Mexico, and our office was recently recognized for its market-leading national and international disputes capacity. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Mexico and connecting via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
I hope you have a safe, healthy, and pleasant rest of the summer, and I’ll be back in your inbox come fall with the latest on U.S.-Mexico affairs.