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Updated Jul 2, 2024, 10:24am EDT
South America
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Semafor Signals

Panama pledges to curb migrant crossings as US agrees to pay for repatriation

Insights from the Migration Policy Institute, BBC Mundo, and Semafor

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Panama's president
Aris Martinez/Reuters
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The News

Panama’s newly inaugurated president pledged to curb migrant crossings via the Darién Gap — a dangerous and largely lawless patch of jungle connecting Panama to Colombia that many traverse on their way to the United States.

The remarks by President José Raúl Mulino, a former security minister, came as Washington signed a deal with his government committing to pay for the repatriation of any migrants who entered Panama via the crossing.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

The Darién Gap is the only land route connecting South and Central America

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Source:  
Migration Policy Institute

The Darién Gap is the only land path that connects South and Central America, making it a popular route for those looking to reach the United States despite the dangers. Political instability in Ecuador, “multiple crises” in Haiti, and Venezuela’s economic collapse have increased migration through the treacherous route, the Migration Policy Institute noted, especially as many migrants can’t easily obtain visas for Central American countries. When Mexico and other Central American countries introduced new visa rules for Venezuelans in 2022, for example, the number of people from the country crossing through the Darién Gap swelled from 3,000 to more than 150,000.

Closing the Darién may be harder than it sounds

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Source:  
BBC Mundo

While Panamanian President Mulino has pledged to curb crossings through the jungle, analysts told BBC Mundo the effort could endanger thousands of people’s lives. More practically, it could be “unfeasible,” and will certainly require “enormous logistical resources.” This is largely a consequence of geography — the Darién is “a closed jungle with no entry or exit point,” where the numbers of people crossing are at times higher than the resident population of the area, an official for the UN Migration Office in Panama told the BBC. On the other hand, the proposal is more about facilitating a regional dialogue than literally shutting down the region, a Panamanian political analyst argued.

Immigration is top concern for Biden as election approaches

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Sources:  
The Associated Press, Gallup, Semafor

The agreement between the US and Panama to coordinate on deporting migrants is another sign that Biden is prioritizing immigration ahead of the US’ November election, The Associated Press wrote. A February Gallup poll reported almost 30% of voters believed immigration is the most important problem facing the country. In turn, Biden’s approach to border security and immigration more broadly has shifted significantly during his presidency, Semafor’s David Weigel wrote. “A president who once summoned his inner Irish poet when talking about asylum seekers has now ordered that migrants ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States”‘can be kept out.”

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