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COVID-19

Mexico’s crumbling economy leads to border arrests, more COVID-19 fears

Andy Uhler Sep 10, 2020
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A sign with indications to cross to the United States near El Chaparral pedestrian crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 1. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Mexico’s crumbling economy leads to border arrests, more COVID-19 fears

Andy Uhler Sep 10, 2020
Heard on:
A sign with indications to cross to the United States near El Chaparral pedestrian crossing port in Tijuana, Mexico, on Sept. 1. Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images
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Border Patrol agents made 38,000 arrests along the southern border in July – up from 16,000 in April. Lots of those arrests are single adults from Mexico. A Border Patrol official said the increase is largely because his agency is quickly sending those single adults back across the border without detaining them – out of virus fears.

But, there’s also another reason for the boost in arrests: Mexico’s struggling economy. Even before Mexico’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 in February, Latin America’s second-largest economy was in a recession.

“To say that the Mexican economy is not doing well is a major understatement,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown at the Brookings Institution. She said over 34 million people are out of work and some 40% of the Mexican population lives in poverty.

Duncan Wood runs the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, and said things are getting worse. Economists predict the Mexican economy will shrink some 10% this year.

“Now, that’s huge. That’s, that’s more than one in 10 of every dollars of the Mexican economy is disappearing,” Wood said, adding that tourism generates more than 15% of Mexico’s GDP – and it has all but collapsed.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, is also reluctant to inject government stimulus into the economy, which isn’t helping.

“During an intense, profound crisis, why wouldn’t you open the purse strings and use this as an opportunity to strengthen the economy so that people can stay employed, and that there is food on the table?” Wood said.

But because they can’t and there often isn’t, more Mexicans have been trying to cross the border for work, often without the proper documents.

“Unemployment has increased dramatically and people desperate for income to support their families are looking to go to the United States,” said Richard Feinberg, who teaches political science at the University of California San Diego.

Mexico is also struggling to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Vanda Felbab-Brown at Brookings said there’s limited access to testing and little opportunity to work remotely, especially for people who work in Mexico’s huge informal economy.

“Often, they don’t have any access to insurance or health care, and their livelihoods are precarious that necessitates that they work daily,” she said.

The COVID-19 official death toll in Mexico recently passed 60,000. Many suspect the true count is much higher.

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