“It is a responsibility of each of the two countries to guarantee that all workers, independent of their immigration status, receive the vaccine,” said Ebrard, referring to both documented and undocumented immigrants.
Ricketts came under fierce and immediate criticism for the remarks, with advocates saying that migrants both documented and undocumented are essential workers, and play an indispensable part in putting food on American tables.
Ricketts later backed away from the remarks, saying immigration status would not be checked prior to receiving a vaccine. His office did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Migrants workers are a critical part of industries ranging from agriculture to construction. However, there remains no national US policy of vaccinating migrant workers, as each state sets its own rules.
As a result, Mexico has not dropped the issue, leading to Ebrard’s comments this week where he argued two articles in the USMCA require the US to protect foreign workers from the coronavirus.
The first is Article 23.3, point 2, which reads in part, “Each Party shall adopt and maintain statutes and regulations, and practices thereunder, governing acceptable conditions of…occupational safety and health.”
He also cited Article 23.8, which holds that all parties must ensure migrant workers are protected under labor laws—whether they are citizens or not.
The articles cited are vague, though, and experts say if the US doesn’t want to do this, it doesn’t have to.
“There is very little bite in terms of enforcement,” said Monica de Bolle, a Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics. “There isn’t really any way the Mexicans use what’s written in the agreement…to force the US to vaccinate migrant workers.”
De Bolle says the USMCA has weaker dispute resolution provisions than its predecessor NAFTA. Taking such a dispute to the World Trade Organization is also highly unlikely and would be unprecedented.
Mexico could stop allowing its nationals to go to the US as migrant workers, potentially crippling numerous crucial supply chains. However, that is highly unlikely, given the significance of that foreign-earned income so many Mexican families struggling to stay afloat.
Despite Mexico’s lack of recourse, though, Ebrard’s claims could signal a short to medium-term strategy.
“Mexico know its current position is weak, but perhaps they are hoping the Biden administration will be much more open to that kind of demand than the Trump administration would be,” said de Bolle.
Drawing a line in the sand now lets the incoming administration — which is already expected to be friendlier to immigrants — know that for Mexico, this is an important issue that should be addressed early on in the new term.
“In a country that is currently experiencing an epidemic that is completely out of control, from a labor protections perspective it makes absolute sense that Mexico would demand something like this,” said de Bolle.
Reporting contributed by Natalie Gallón.