Central American and Mexican Governments Seek to Appease the US as they negotiate their own responsibilities for the Central American exodus.

Photo: Report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.

June 10, 2019 In recent days, the government of El Salvador has acknowledged its responsibility in creating the conditions for the exodus of Salvadoran families seeking protection in the United States. President Nayib Bukele – who took office a month ago – took the blame for the role his country played in the tragic drowning of a Salvadoran father, Óscar Martínez and his daughter Valeria,  as they tried to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. It was encouraging to see President Bukele step up and recognize the responsibility of El Salvador to protect its people. However, he stopped short of calling out the Trump administration for the horrors that children and families are facing in the US in public and private detention centers, or for the rights-trampling “Remain in Mexico” policy.

For its part, Mexico seems to walk a thin line between asserting its support for humanitarian protections and seeking to please the Trump administration. Last week, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador thanked Trump for recognizing “progress” of Mexico in immigration control.  Meanwhile, the US has recruited Guatemala to the task of containing migration. Even as Guatemalans themselves continue to flee the country, Guatemala began detaining foreigners in transit.

As that was happening, people in the United States began to respond with increasing outrage at the the horrific conditions of overcrowding, filth, and misery at US migration detention center.   A report on detention conditions in the Rio Grande Valley, from the Department of Homeland Security’s own Inspector General, revealed children and families held in disgusting, inhuman conditions.   In spite of the images, and its own internal report, Interim Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan traveled to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to deny that there was a problem.

Remain in Mexico a Human Rights Nightmare.

Meanwhile, more than 16,000 people have been turned back to Mexico under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico” policy – which allows people to be arbitrarily chosen to await their asylum processes in Mexico –according to the most recent update from the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM).  According to INM data, most people are being returned through the border to Ciudad Juárez, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, followed by Tijuana, and Mexicali. These people face extreme danger and insecurity, according to a recent report presented by the organizations Human Rights Watch and Hope Border Institute.  In Mexico, they have few options for shelter, or basic needs and many have not received the promised work visas. Lacking government support, and unable to support themselves by working, these asylum seekers are trapped in dangerous cities, making them vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation.

Faced with these dire conditions, asylum seekers returned to Mexico are beginning to give up and return to their countries of origin.  Just last week, a group of at least 70 asylum seekers informed Mexican officials that they wished to return home. It is a sad irony that the US is achieving its objective of discouraging Central American asylum seeker through blatant violation of international norms, and by essentially having Mexico do its dirty work.   The people who fled their homes- knowing the risks they would face—did so because they had no choice. Returning them means putting them at risk. 

Follow the money?  Lack of transparency makes it hard.

Mexico’s role in all of this is further complicated by a lack of transparency. Since the first “caravans” of Central American migrants arrived in the country – in October 2018 – the government has refused to provide data about those migration flows. After many informal requests, and finally in response to a formal information request, the National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) determined that the Ministry of the Interior must disclose information in relation to its compliance with the framework of the migration agreement with the United States. INAI also insisted on transparency in reporting any resources that Mexico may be receiving to finance the detention and deportation of migrants, and how these resources are being administered.  However, neither the Mexican government, nor any other government in the region seems eager to reveal any of the requested data. Only civil society and a few human rights agencies continue to press for transparency.

Children will bear the pain of bad policy, possibly forever.

 There will be irreparable consequences for the  children who are now in detention, separted from their parents, or suffering in unsafe conditions along the route. We know that the problems that drive migration flows will not be solved overnight, and no matter how harsh the repression, children and entire families will continue to seek protection.  Alianza Americas calls on the governments of the region to take swift steps to protect people who need our help and avoid more tragedies such as those of Óscar and Valeria. People who flee should not be repressed or imprisoned or returned to places where their lives are at risk.