New Panama President Says He Will Shut Down US Migration

( – Panama is poised for a significant shift in its immigration policy, a move that President-elect José Raúl Mulino believes will reshape the migration landscape extending from the dense jungles of Darien to the bustling borders of the United States.

Mulino, following his electoral victory, has announced ambitious plans to curtail the movement of migrants through Panama, a route that saw over half a million people traverse last year. This major policy change is scheduled to take effect with his administration beginning on July 1.

Under the current system, Panama facilitates the northward journey of migrants by providing transportation across its territory, a process that has been both rapid and efficient. However, Mulino, who won the presidency with 34% of the vote, aims to end what he describes as the unnecessary “Darien odyssey.” This policy shift raises questions about its feasibility in a region where the government’s presence is minimal and control is challenging.

The Darien Gap, a notoriously perilous stretch between Colombia and Panama, has become a critical but dangerous pathway for those seeking to reach North America. The route’s popularity surged as countries like Mexico, under pressure from the U.S., imposed stringent visa requirements on nationalities prone to using air travel to reach the U.S. border.

Despite the dangers, which include hostile terrain, criminal activities, and the risk of sexual assault and robbery, the path through Darien has been streamlined over the years, reducing the crossing time significantly.

Giuseppe Loprete, chief of mission in Panama for the U.N.’s International Organization for Immigration, pointed out the complexities of migration dynamics. He emphasized that closing legal pathways often leads migrants to riskier, illegal routes, driven by desperation and misinformation. The U.N. agency plans to discuss the details of Mulino’s strategy once his team is in place, hoping to gauge the potential impacts of these sweeping changes.

Experts like Julio Alonso, a Panamanian security specialist, and Adam Isacson from the Washington Office on Latin America, express skepticism about the practicality and effectiveness of Mulino’s plan. Alonso highlights the operational challenges along the expansive and unmonitored border, noting that previous humanitarian efforts did little to mitigate the violence and peril faced by migrants on this route. Isacson, meanwhile, questions the logistical and financial feasibility of deporting migrants en masse, suggesting that even daily deportation flights would only marginally reduce the migrant flow.

Mulino’s approach, which he described in a local radio interview, is as much ideological as it is practical. He hopes that a robust deportation strategy will deter migrants from using Panama as a transit hub. His plan, however, hinges on significant cooperation and coordination with neighboring countries, particularly Colombia, and the broader international community.

The impending policy shift in Panama reflects a broader trend of tightening migration controls across the globe. As nations grapple with the challenges of managing migration flows, the effectiveness of such measures will ultimately depend on a complex interplay of domestic policies, international cooperation, and the unyielding pressures that drive people to leave their homes in search of safety and opportunity.

Whether Mulino’s strategy will lead to a safer and more controlled migration process or simply shift the routes to even more dangerous paths remains an open question, one that will be closely watched by policymakers and advocates alike.