By ANTONIO GARZA, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico
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 years old, many of whom had 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. Mexico’s Public Health Secretariat (SSA) 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 Joe Biden administration renewed border restrictions, which have been extended on a monthly basis since March 2020. These restrictions are facing mounting opposition from political and business leaders in U.S. border 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 those immigrants 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 United States. It is reportedly contemplating keeping in place Title 42 restrictions at the border. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that migrants who come by sea won’t be permitted to enter the United States. His comments came after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse 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 United States as children in legal 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, many of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) administration’s recent positions are at odds with the United States. Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard expressed support for the Cuban government amid recent protests and interest in restoring diplomatic and commercial relations with North Korea. This represents yet 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 7 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the USMCA trade agreement. Over the coming year, the 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 in the Gulf of Mexico find to state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) instead of a private consortium led by the U.S. company Talos Energy that first discovered it five years ago and had already invested $300 million into the project. Last week, a bipartisan 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.
ANTONIO GARZA is a U.S. lawyer who served as his country’s ambassador to Mexico between 2002 and 2009. In recognition of his work, in 2009, the Mexican government bestowed on him the Águila Azteca, the highest award granted to foreigners. Prior to his appointment as ambassador, Garza served as Texas’ secretary of state from January 1995 to November 1997 and was also chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. He is currently a lawyer specializing in cross-border issues at White & Case, which was recently named the most innovative firm in North America for 2020 by the Financial Times. He is also currently a director at both Kansas City Southern and MoneyGram.