Migrant Labor Comes to Standstill Amid Pandemic

By Shani Saxon May 05, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically curbed migration at the southern border and around the globe, according to a New York Times report published on Tuesday (May 5). ‘In Latin America, once-crowded migratory routes that led from South America, through Central America and Mexico and to the United States have gone quiet, with the Trump administration seizing on the virus to close the border to almost all migrants,” the report states. 

In some locations, the inability to make a living wage has forced migrants to return to their home countries, even if that means they will face dangerous political and economic consequences. “We’re finding mass numbers moving back to their countries of origin because they cannot survive,” said Gillian Triggs, the assistant high commissioner for protection at the United Nations Refugee Agency, in an interview with The Times. Many who make the decision to return to their countries of origin were denied access to government relief programs in their adopted countries. “They are the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid,” Triggs added. “And they are almost always the first to go.”

Reports The Times:

A migrant shelter in southern Mexico called La 72 has for years been a popular way station for those traveling from Central America to the United States. Last year it received a record number of visitors, sometimes sheltering more than 2,000 a month.

In recent weeks, however, that traffic has come to a grinding halt, and even gone into reverse.

Since late March, amid the coronavirus pandemic, no more than 100 migrants have passed through the shelter. And nearly all were heading south, trying to get back to their homes in Central America.

“We’ve never seen this before,” said Ramón Márquez, the former director of the shelter. “I’ve never seen anything slow migration like the coronavirus.”

Another deterrent to migration has been the Trump administration’s decision in March to severely limit border crossings, according to The Times. The new policy uses the threat of COVID-19 as a reason to immediately deport anyone who illegally crosses the southern border. Officials have also stopped processing anyone of undocumented status who tries to enter the U.S. through legal ports of entry. “I would hazard to say that the only migration that’s working now is migration with smugglers,” Márquez told The Times.

In an interview with The Times, Demetrios G. Papademetriou, co-founder and president emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, said these massive shifts are truly unprecedented. “The pandemic has essentially—not absolutely, but essentially—stopped international migration and mobility dead in its tracks,” he said.