Africans and Haitians under siege due to new restrictions on mobility in Mexico

Protests by African migrants continue on Monday, August 26 in Tapachula. Twitter report by photojournalist Víctor Peña, from El Faro newspaper.

August 28, 2019 – Over the past week, people of African and Haitian origin have staged protests in front of the Siglo XXI migratory station in Tapachula, Chiapas, located on the southern border of Mexico.  This blog and other sources have covered the impacts of Mexico’s practices of containment and repression on people of Central American origin, but the latest restrictions are having a specific impact on African and Caribbean people attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. 

The protests follow a change in Mexican immigration policy that has largely fallen under the international radar. Previously, African migrants could enter Mexico, often after traveling from South America, and receive a 20-day temporary permit allowing them to travel through the country and seek protection in the United States. This practice has now been discontinued. Now the 20-day permit only permits them to request permission to remain in Mexico or to exit the country through the southern border.  This means they are prevented from continuing their transit north to seek protection in the United States. This is clearly an example of the López Obrador administration acting as de-facto migration police, enforcing the Trump administration’s attempts to limit access to asylum in the United States. 

The African people seeking asylum are very visibly impacted because they are essentially stranded in Chiapas, Mexico, with no access to protections.  With no consular representation available to them, they are unable to prove their nationality. This prevents them from being deported, but it also prevents them from moving farther into Mexico. Individuals from Haiti, Cuba and Central America, are also impacted, but less visible, because they are swiftly being deported. 

Civil society organizations remain the chief source of protection for migrants in southern Mexico, but they face serious challenges in carrying out their mission of offering guidance and psychosocial support to African and Haitian people who do not speak Spanish. Many of these individuals are insisting on their right to seek asylum in the United States and refuse to return to Guatemala due to the precarious economic and social problems of that country. The protestors demand that the Mexican government reverse the policy change, allowing them to continue their journey to the United States. Mexico risks exacerbating tensions and violating human rights on its southern border, if it continues to contain people in Chiapas.

Mexico ratchets up repression on demonstrations

Mexico’s response to the demands of the African population has been to dissolve demonstrations using the National Guard and the Federal Police. The decision of the Federal Government to silence dialogue, suppress and dismiss people’s rights has generated violent confrontations. 

Suppression from the National Guard, Federal Police and the National Migration Institute (NMI) exists in both the southern and northern parts of the country. In Tijuana, there is also evidence of efforts to seek out and detain migrants. It has become clear that people who have decided to stay in Mexico are being targeted, rather than benefiting from efforts to promote social inclusion as the López Obrador administration had promised earlier this year. This far, 400 thousand people from 25 nations have entered Mexico in 2019, according to the Human Rights Secretariat. 

Civil society responds with strategic litigation

Mexican civil society is repositioning its strategies as a response to more aggressive detentions and deportations. Strategic litigation is a new tool in the effort to reverse changes in immigration policy and management that are not supported by the law or the national Constitution. Over the past week, we have seen several efforts along these lines.

Asylum Access has requested an emergency injunction on behalf of 10 people who were detained at the Siglo XXI Migration Station in Chiapas and were denied recognition of their refugee status in Mexico. Asylum Access also requested protection measures from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

Last week, as a response to the policy affecting the African population, Centro de Dignificación Humana A.C., led by human rights defender Luis Villagrán, said he is preparing a request for legal protection on behalf of these people. 

Meanwhile, the NHCHR concluded its visit to the southern border of the United States on Friday, August 23. We will post additional information as it becomes available on the outcomes of this visit.