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July 2019, Volume 25, Number 3

Canada, Mexico

Canada. Canada added 321,000 immigrants in 2018, the most since 1913, when 401,000 were admitted. Canada's population rose by 528,000 in 2018.

Canada has over 5,000 licensed immigration consultants, and media reports suggest that many charge temporary workers for jobs in Canada. However, few migrants complain, and there are few government investigations; four consultants were convicted of defrauding migrants in 2018.

Immigration consultants are usually Canadian immigrants or citizens. Most target their countrymen, advertising their services online in their customers' language.

Canada issued 340,220 temporary work permits in 2018 and 358,190 visas to foreign students. A quarter of the work permits went to low-skilled workers, whose number is falling after scandals, while the number of student visas is rising, allegedly because foreign students can work without their Canadian employers having to first search for Canadian workers.

The government in June 2019 announced that it would explore giving low-skilled migrant farm workers sector-specific work permits so they could change employers while in Canada. Workers would have to find another Canadian employer who was approved to hire migrants in order to change employers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in June 2019 announced that the $7 billion expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to move Alberta oil to British Columbian ports would begin in summer 2019. Profits from the pipeline expansion will be used to fund alternative energy projects. A lack of pipeline capacity has forced some Alberta oil to move by train, which is more costly and dangerous. In exchange for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Alberta will introduce carbon taxes.

Vancouver in June 2019 was rocked by the trial of Zhao Li, who killed his cousin-in-law Yuan Gang, a millionaire who married a Canadian-Chinese woman in 2005, obtained immigrant status in 2007 and divorced his wife in a case later deemed to be immigration fraud, and invested $35 million in Canadian real estate and several expensive homes in Vancouver. Zhao Li and his family moved to Montreal in 2007 and to Vancouver in 2010 to work for Yuan. Yuan wanted to marry Zhao's 26-year-old daughter, which led to the killing. Yuan left a $21 million estate, which is being contested by various family members.

Mexico. President Trump announced five percent tariffs on all goods imported from Mexico beginning June 10, 2019 to persuade the Mexican government to do more to prevent Central Americans from transiting to the US to apply for asylum. Trump withdrew the tariffs just before they were to go into effect after Mexico agreed to "take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration."

By July 2019, Mexico had deployed 20,000 members of its newly formed National Guard to deter the entry and transit of Central Americans at its southern border and to prevent unauthorized entries from its northern border into the US. Mexican authorities apprehended 29,000 unauthorized foreigners in June 2019, and deported 22,000. The National Guard combines units of the navy, army and federal police; federal police in July 2019 protested against inclusion, saying that their pay and benefits could be reduced and they could be forced to move from their current posting.

Second, Mexico agreed to allow the US to implement its Migrant Protection Protocols or the Remain in Mexico Program along the entire border, so that migrants entering US ports of entry and applying for asylum can be returned to Mexico to wait for hearings before US immigration judges.

Third, if stepped-up enforcement and remain in Mexico do not slow the flow of Central American asylum seekers to the US, Mexico promised to explore becoming a safe-third country for asylum seekers, meaning that Central Americans seeking asylum would have to apply there, and could be returned to Mexico if they entered the US and sought asylum. Canada and the US adopted a safe-third-country agreement in 2002. Mexico says that it needs additional resources and help from UN agencies to become a safe-third country.

Advocates say that Mexico is not safe, and point to internal migration away from southern Mexican states such as Guerrero, which is torn by violence and received the most Mexicans deported from the US in FY18, over 20,000. Small farmers have long cultivated opium poppies in mountainous areas, but criminal gangs fighting over control of the heroin trade have raised the murder rate and prompted people to move to other states. Some 155,000 Mexicans were apprehended just inside the US border in FY18, compared with 226,000 from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

In 2018, the US imported Mexican goods worth $346 billion, meaning the US would collect over $17 billion a year in tariffs if trade levels remain unchanged. US exports to Mexico were worth $265 billion. Many items cross the border several times, as with Mexican crude oil that is refined into gasoline and re-exported to Mexico, or auto parts that cross the border several times before being assembled in cars.

Mexico's 570-mile border with Guatemala is porous, with migrants often crossing the Suchiate River on rafts. Mexico returned 436,125 Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans back to Guatemala between January 2015 to September 2018, and deported 9,000 Central Americans a month in 2019.

Mexico in June 2019 required long-distance buses operating in border states to demand identification such as passports, voter identification cards and driver's licenses from passengers to prevent Central Americans without documents from traveling through Mexico. Critics said that these new ID requirements are unconstitutional and discriminate against Mexicans who do not have IDs.

Guatemala in June 2019 announced that it was ready to sign a safe-third country agreement with the US that would require Hondurans and Salvadorans to apply for asylum in Guatemala rather than transit the country through Mexico and on to the US. Some 444,000 Guatemalan, Hondurans and Salvadorans were apprehended inside the US border in the first seven months of FY19; most were Guatemalans.

The Central America-4 Free Mobility Agreement allows citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to travel freely between the four countries.

Honduras is a country of nine million with many migrants leaving from San Pedro Sula; 175,000 Hondurans were apprehended in the US in first eight months of FY19, up from 76,500 in all of FY18. There are many reasons to leave, from one of the world's highest homicide rates to a 60 percent poverty rate in the most unequal country in Latin America. Some 70 percent of Hondurans are unemployed or underemployed.

Honduran GDP is $20 billion a year. Government officials are routinely accused of stealing money meant for social security and aid.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) asked Trump for dialogue about migration rather than tariffs. Mexico continues to issue year-long humanitarian residence and work visas to foreigners who apply for asylum, and expects over 60,000 asylum applications in 2019, double the 30,000 of 2018.

Trump's threat to impose tariffs on Mexican imports despite NAFTA and while USMCA is being ratified caused an uproar among trade negotiators, who warned of damage to US credibility by mixing trade and migration. Even though the tariffs on Mexico were not implemented, trade negotiators warned that some businesses will rethink their cross-border supply chains because they realize that a tariff could be imposed quickly.

US critics say that the surging number of Central American asylum seekers led to a classic Trump response: declare a crisis, threaten tough action, prompt furious negotiations to prevent catastrophe, and declare success. Trump, who says that he does not want anyone to know exactly what he is thinking to keep them off balance, has used threats more often than any other president.

Mexico's economy expanded two percent in 2018, and is likely to slow to 1.6 percent in 2019. The threat of tariffs led to the downgrading of Mexican debt and a fall in the value of the peso to 20 pesos to $1. AMLO's government doubled retirement pensions, granted stipends to unemployed youth, and cancelled a new airport for Mexico City while trying to reorganize Petroleos Mexicanos, which has $100 billion in debt.

Labor. The Mexican Congress in April 2019 approved legislation that gives workers the right to elect union leaders in direct elections with secret ballots and made other pro-worker changes in order to comply with the requirements of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that replaces NAFTA. Mexico's labor law changes will end protection unions, which are unions that sign agreements with employers before workers are hired, so that workers have no vote for their union or contract. Critics say that protection unions depressed Mexican wages.

Under the new labor law, unions must win the support of at least 30 percent of the workers in a workplace to be recognized as their bargaining representative. The Labor Ministry is supposed to review the 500,000 contracts signed under the old system that are likely invalid because workers did not vote on them. Mexican wages declined in inflation-adjusted terms between 2005 and 2019. The Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which claims five million affiliated workers, predicts that employers and employees will continue to favor CTM unions.

The government in April 2019 reduced its $300 billion a year budget slightly due to lower oil prices and lower oil output of 1.8 million barrels a day. AMLO wants to reverse previous steps taken to privatize the state-owned oil company Pemex and the Federal Electricity Commission, both of which are mired in corruption and inefficiency. AMLO wants to invest public money to improve firms that touch Mexican lives daily.

Elba Esther Gordillo, head of the SNTE teachers union with a million members for 24 years, was arrested in 2013 and charged of embezzling $200 million and money laundering. Charges against La Maestra (The Teacher) were eventually dropped, allowing her to seek to regain the presidency of one of the largest unions in Latin America.

Mexico's National Workers' Housing Fund Infonavit has over 650,000 abandoned homes, and will demolish two-thirds of them. Many were begun by developers seeking government subsidies in flood plains and other secondary locations; many of the abandoned homes were not connected to water and sewer services before developers went bankrupt.

Mexico produced a record 122 tons of heroin in 2017, up from 89 tons in 2016. One result is lower prices for farmers for the milky latex from poppy pods that may encourage some farmers from mountainous areas of southwestern Mexico to leave for Mexican cities and the US. The price of opium resin was almost $600 a pound in 2017, but was only $50 a pound in summer 2019, encouraging some farmers to switch from poppies to corn.

Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria in September 2017 devastated Puerto Rico, and the island has been slow to recover. After Maria, SNAP (PAN in PR) benefits were raised to mainland levels for a year, but returned to their pre-Maria levels in March 2019. About 43 percent of the 3.2 million Puerto Rican residents receive SNAP/PAN benefits.

OMB in April 2019 reported that $41 billion was allocated to rebuild Puerto Rico, including $11 billion that was disbursed. OMB estimates that Puerto Rico will receive a total of $91 billion in federal aid over the next two decades.