January 24, 2020 – Based on events from this past week, it is clear that the Mexican government is indeed putting in place the Trump Administration’s border wall– but doing so on Mexico’s southern border. The López Obrador administration, which initially promised a humane approach to migration, has detained hundreds of Central American attempting to move through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. On Thursday, January 23, the confrontations and use of force increased. Agents of the National Guard, the Marines, the Federal Police, and the National Migration Institute, used tear gas and riot gear at border points in the States of Tabasco and Chiapas to turn back the group. The people returned to the Guatemalan side of the border, due to the repression.
Despite widely circulated images evidencing the repression, the Mexican government insisted that it welcomes migrants who want to enter and stay in the country but do so in an “orderly and safe manner”. News reports related accounts of families being separated in the chaos and hundreds deported to their countries of origin. According to the Salvadoran newspaper, El Faro, on Saturday, January 19, government officials offered to transport people arriving at the southern border to a “safe place” and instead took them to a detention center where they were later deported.
Both the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the Interior Secretary assured that Mexico will not award transit visas for people seeking asylum in the United States. The collective of de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el sureste mexicano condemned the absence of effective humanitarian measures, lack of identification of people eligible to apply for asylum, family separation, violation of due process, and the use of immigration detention.
The reality is that even before the most recent wave of the Central American exodus, Mexico had shifted its immigration policy to one based on containment and deportation of people wanting to enter its territory. These tactics both criminalize migration, and ignore the structural causes that force people to flee their countries of origin. In return, the Trump Administration lauded Mexico for stepping up the policing of its borders.
Alianza Americas joins migrant organizations and networks rejecting the actions of Mexican authorities and demands that justice and the right to due process are guaranteed. As members of the Regional Network of Civil Organizations for Migration, we also condemn the threats against Father Mauro Verzeletti, director of Casa del Migrante Guatemala, and his team, as well as limitations on free transit and restrictions on the right to asylum in the region.
Human rights defenders are banned from monitoring migrant detention centers
For years, civil society organizations have monitored detention centers in order to document conditions and ensure that migrant’s rights are preserved. In recent months, there have been alarming setbacks to that work due to new barriers imposed by the National Migration Institute has that impede civil society access to enter detention centers. This decision restricts the ability to defend the rights of people who are not informed about the immigration process and their legal status. Organizations including the Fray Matías de Córdova Center and Asylum Access Mexico have been barred from providing detained immigrants with legal, psychosocial and humanitarian support.
Caravans spotlight fissures in democracy in Central America
During the early weeks of January, approximately 3,500 Central Americans, primarily from Honduras and El Salvador, formed the first so-called “caravans” of 2020. Their profile is similar to that observed in the Central American exodus of 2018 and 2019. Entire families, along with young men and women often accompanied by children, are fleeing their countries of origin due to state violence and violations of their rights.
The conditions driving forced migration have not abated, and in some cases have worsened.
Transparency International recently released its Corruption Perception Index for Honduras, documenting a decline in people’s trust in authorities and political institutions related to the government’s failure to combat and condemn corruption, as well as an authoritarian and corrupt use of public resources, and lack of transparency. The report came on the heels of an announcement by the Honduran government that the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) would not be allowed to continue its work. Additionally, Honduras had recorded at least 4,000 homicides and 70 massacres in 2019. Poverty remains a major driver of forced migration, with 65 to 67% of the population living in poverty.
In El Salvador, the government has rolled out a new Territorial Control Plan aimed at ending violence and insecurity. The new measures rely heavily on militarization of public security and the evidence so far is mixed, with several instances violent acts already in 2020. Economic inequality also remains a major challenge. A recent study estimated the cost of living at about US$700/month, yet the average Salvadoran makes just over $300.
In Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei took office as President on January 14 after a turbulent period under Jimmy Morales, who was widely criticized for undermining anti-corruption efforts by failing to renew the mandate of the International Commission against Corruption (CICIG) in Guatemala. During his first days in office, Giammattei has put forth a plan to control violence in the country by militarizing territories that are considered high risk, and using this action to label criminal groups as terrorists, a strategy similar to that of El Salvador. This repressive stance is reinforced by Guatemala’s bilateral agreement with the United States, effectively making Guatemala a form of limbo for people attempting to move across borders in Central America.