Mexican government continues rhetoric on “humanitarian policies” but actions favor detention and containment

Photo by Andrea González, from Colectivo Ustedes Somos Nosotros, Mexico.

April 29, 2019 – The López Obrador administration in Mexico insists that its migration policies are based on human rights, and that Mexico desires to be a nation that is “receptive” to immigrants who are looking for opportunities. However, recently released data on apprehensions, detentions and deportations tells another story.  

The number of deportations of Honduran immigrants is particularly alarming.  From January 1 to April 19, 11,443 Hondurans were deported from the United States.  Of these, only 1,081 were women and 102 were unaccompanied minors. In the same period, Mexico deported 15,239 Hondurans, including 2,448 women and 4,945 unaccompanied minors.  Almost a third of Hondurans deported from Mexico were unaccompanied children.  For these 4,945 children, who traveled without family members in search of protections that were unavailable in their own countries, the Mexican government decided deportation was the best option.  Monthly deportations of Hondurans have increased for every month of 2019 when compared to last year’s data. As stated by Oscar Chacón, director of Alianza Americas, we are following the situation in Mexico with concern and disappointment.

More people detained and contained in southern Mexico

Last week, a group a little less than three thousand people, in exodus from Central America, were pursued by groups from the National Institute of Migration (INM) and the Mexican Federal Police while traveling down the highway in Pijijiapan, in the southern state of Chiapas.  According to official figures, 371 people – including children – were eventually detained and may now face deportation to their countries of origin.

This group left humanitarian camps located in Mapastepec, where they had been living in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions since mid-March, waiting for immigration approval from INM.  They had been waiting on a “humanitarian card” visa program announced at the beginning of the year.  However the government has repeatedly suspended the issuance of the humanitarian permits, and announced announced that it would prioritize women, children and older adults.

Before these events – which have already been denounced by the Mexican Human Rights Commission in Geneva – Minister of the Interior Olga Sánchez, Chancellor Marcelo Ebrard, and INM Commissioner Tonatiuh Guillén defended the action in a press conference, arguing that national sovereignty and immigration law must be respected.  They assured that Mexican immigration policies were based on tenets of the newly signed “Global Compact on Migration”, placing heavy emphasis on the need to promote “safe, orderly and regular” migration.  In the press conference, the officials assured that humanitarian visas would continue; however, there would be “more selective” application processes following international standards for protection and refuge and they were exploring ways to issue the visas from countries of origin.

In practice, it seems the Mexican government seeks to prevent an influx of migrants arriving at its border with the United States as a strategy to appease the Trump administration, who has repeatedly called on Mexican officials to impede the progress of the migrant caravans.

With every inconsistency, the Mexican government moves farther away from its promise to welcome and protect immigrant populations.  People who have a well-founded fear for their lives in countries like Honduras and El Salvador, where approximately 90% of crimes remain unresolved, now face the risk of being deported back to dangerous situations.

This week has seen another major development.  On Thursday, April 25, over one thousand migrants detained in the “Siglo XXI” detention center in Chiapas left the center without permission.  Immigration authorities indicated that there was no confrontation because they were not equipped to handle the situation.  It is worrisome that there is no comprehensive response to the “Central American exodus”, and that steps to contain and detain migrant groups continue to prevail.  The lack of continuity in comprehensive protection actions and absence of responses can trigger unnecessary confrontations between the government and migrants who are simply seeking the opportunity for a dignified life.

From “American Dream” to border worker?

The Mexican government has responded to needs for documentation by extending “border worker visas” to migrants from El Salvador and Honduras, in addition to individuals from Guatemala and Belize who were previously eligible.  Individuals who take advantage of this option will only be allowed to stay within five states in southern Mexico. President López Obrador announced that through this program immigrants would have access to work in development projects in the south, such as the Mayan train and environmental projects. Through these actions, the Mexican government seems to want to concentrate members of the Central American exodus in the south of the country.  This strategy, however, ignores the fact that flows of Central Americans are heading toward the United States and do not wish to stay in Mexico.

Cuban “exodus” heading to the U.S.

Press reports in recent weeks have highlighted a significant flow of Cubans heading to Mexico.  Several groups of Cubans are now in Ciudad Juárez, along Mexico’s northern border,, waiting for their turn to seek asylum in the United States.  Cubans traveling through Mexico are granted safe passage, giving them the authority to travel through the country for up to 20 days.

Since the end of March, the shelter Casa del Migrante in Ciudad Juárez has taken charge of caring for individuals who plan to seek asylum in the United States and have been delayed by metering policies being instituted at ports of entry. The State Commission for Population (Coespa), the department overseeing the migrant registry, is now helping the United States impose limits on asylum.  Desperate after growing wait times, hundreds of Cubans have opted to cross the border and surrender to border patrol.

Migrant children, an urgent protection challenge

In the last caravan, Mexico provided legal status to around 12,000 migrants, 3,000 of whom were children, according to figures from UNICEF.  The Government of Mexico now faces an even greater challenge to create comprehensive protective mechanisms to register, accompany and protect the rights of children in mixed migrant flows.

Since 2014, the General Law on the Rights of Children and Adolescents has established special measures for child migrants, protecting them from detention.  The National System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents is also responsible for protecting the best interests of the child. The Human Rights Commission has urged the INM to keep an adequate and transparent record of the number of children and adolescents who are in the detention centers in the south of the country.  This is just one step toward Mexico’s obligation to implement protection measures that mitigate the vulnerability of children.