August 20, 2019 – New reports have confirmed that Mexico is sending asylum seekers from the US/Mexico border to Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also referred to as “Remain in Mexico”. Migrants with pending asylum applications in the United States now find themselves more than 1300 miles away from the US-Mexico border while they wait for their applications to be processed. The Mexican government has made a similar offer to asylum seekers waiting in border cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, without any offer to return asylum applicants to the border for their case hearings.
While the Mexican government has implicitly recognized the dangers asylum seekers face by offering to move them away from the border region, Chiapas is still very insecure for migrants and does not offer opportunities for them to live lives of dignity. Returning asylum seekers to Mexico has been criticized for exposing migrants to greater insecurity, and is a direct violation of the internationally recognized principle of non-refoulement, which states that asylum seekers should not be returned to a place where their lives are in danger. It isn’t clear whether asylum seekers in Mexico will be allowed to enter the United States to appeal their asylum claim, or what will happen after their Mexican residency permits expire after one year. The measure seems designed to incentivize people to abandon their asylum claims and return to their countries of origin. By transporting asylum seekers to other areas of the country where their lives are still under threat, and jeopardizing their ability to return to the border to seek asylum in the place where they feel safe, Mexico is actively violating internationally-recognized rights.
Migrants are not being “rescued”, they’re being detained
Mexican officials continue to cover their actions with rhetoric, calling migrants who have been detained in recent operations “rescuees”. Ever since efforts began to militarize the southern border of the country, migrants have been looking for transportation networks to travel north, facing insecure and unhealthy conditions without any guarantee of arriving at their final destination. This was the case in a recent operation that detained migrants from India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka who had traveled through Central America in hopes of arriving to Mexico City. Throughout the months of July and August, Alianza Americas has monitored eight similar operations that have resulted in migrants being detained in migration stations and potentially vulnerable to deportation.
In response to the rise in human trafficking, the Mexican government’s response has been to detain and deport migrants, rather than recognize them as victims who have rights and require protection.
United States pressures Guatemala’s president-elect
Meanwhile, the United States has begun to pressure Guatemala’s president-elect, Alejandro Giammattei, on the asylum agreement signed by the current Morales administration last month. This week Mauricio Claver-Carone, US regional affairs advisor, arrived in Guatemala to meet with current government officials and the new president-elect. In the meeting, the US diplomat pushed to speed implementation of an agreement that would essentially turn Guatemala into a prison for asylum seekers. The agreement has not yet been implemented due to three lawsuits filed in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, including one from human rights attorney Jordán Rodas. As of this writing, no rulings on those lawsuits have been issued.
What is certain is that this agreement makes no sense given the conditions asylum seekers would face if returned to Guatemala. We join calls from other civil society organizations in the region, insisting that Guatemala is far from being considered a “safe” country for people in search of protection.
Who is Giammattei? The Guatemalan President-elect is originally a doctor who previously ran for presidential office three times before winning the latest round of elections on August 11. In 2006, as director of the Guatemalan Penitentiary System, he was criminally charged after seven inmates were killed in prison on his watch. After an initial criminal investigation, the process was dropped. This incident left a mark on his political career, and reflects the challenges of the fight against impunity in Guatemala. It is no surprise that the Giammattei campaign announced it would not renew the mandate for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Throughout the campaign, Giammattei made several declarations around human migration, although it is not at all clear how these will play out in public policy. During the campaign, he called for more foreign investment and job creation to reduce the need for Guatemalans to leave. He also indicated that he would ask the US government to look into an agreement for Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalans in the United States. Other campaign promises included: opening more Guatemalan consulates in the US and Mexico, creating microenterprises to support the integration of newly returned deportee, and promoting financial education for Guatemalans receiving remittances from family members in other countries.