Mexico speeds up implementation of security measures that threaten the lives and dignity of migrants and refugees

Immigrant detention operation in Chiapas, southern Mexico, on June 5, 2019. Photo: Karen Vanessa Perez Martinez, of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

June 18, 2019 The Mexican government announced the details of security actions along the Mexico-Guatemala border that demonstrate its compliance with commitments under a new bilateral agreement with the United States. Mexico will deploy its National Guard in the South and formalize its role in the “Remain in Mexico” program, which will allow the United States to continue returning asylum seekers to México to await hearings on their asylum requests.  Mexico also announced it will increase migration enforcement coordination among Mexican states along the migration route, as well as participating in a regional cooperation table with Central America.   The stated purpose of these actions is to “provide an effective and humane approach” to migration while also addressing the root causes. Yet so far, all the effort seems to be focused on enhanced security operations, with just a few isolated and poorly coordinated actions on the ground.

A new commission was created to monitor the compliance of the agreements under the direction of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard. Although Mexico’s continues to assert that it an asylum and “solidarity” country, the absence of the domestic Governance Ministry and the National Migration Institute (INM) in the negotiations and implementation of the accord with the United States are cause for concern.  Last week, INM commissioner Tonatiuh Guillén abruptly resigned, adding fuel to concerns that the humanitarian issues are largely being ignored. Civil society was only able to read the full text of the US- Mexico agreement after the Mexican Senate pressured Secretary Ebrard to release it.

Mexico’s Migration policy is now led by Foreign Affairs

Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has raced to show that its strategy to contain migration is working.  President Andrés Manuel López Obrador put Secretary Ebrard in charge of a special commission to meet the commitments with the USA. The commission included five sub-commissions that will implement security actions, coordination with the states for regularization and integration options in the Southern and Northern borders and the cooperation panel with Central America.

The plan raises a number of serious concerns, starting with the role of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.  A serious approach to managing human mobility in Mexico must involve the agencies that work at a domestic level, including the Governance ministry along with the Secretaries of Well-being, Labor, Health, and Education.

Civil society organizations have also raised concerns about the humanitarian and human rights implications of militarization along the migration routes: How will the needs of the people staying in Mexico be met without a clear integration policy? How can the rights of people in detention (a growing number) be protected? How will all this be done in a context of national austerity? President López Obrador’s initial response was that the sale of the presidential airplane will provide resources to fund assistance for migrants.

In addition, on Friday 14, Secretary Ebrard announced that he will start implementing a registry program, under which migrants must explain the purpose of their arrival to Mexico, with the goal of stopping those who are using Mexico as a transit country to the United States. “If you want to go through our territory to get to another country…we don’t want you going through our territory’,” said the Secretary.

On Friday 14, the Ministry of Governance provided the details of people who have requested asylum in the United States and have been returned to Mexico. (Figures up to June 13). Infographics elaborated by Alianza Americas based on Mexican official information available here:

Tijuana y Mexicali

Chihuahua

First repercussions: life and security

The repercussions of these changes on Mexico’s southern border are already disturbing.  A Salvadoran girl was killed and two others injured when the Federal Police allegedly opened fire at a vehicle that did not stop at a migrant checkpoint.  More loss of life can be expected if state-sponsored violence towards migrants goes unchecked.

Eight hundred people traveling in four tractor-trailors were apprehended and detained in a joint action between agents of the Federal Police and the National Institute of Migration. This shift to more large-scale transport networks (largely operated by organized crime) is another unintended consequence of closing down the flows of migrant caravans.  Migrants are now back to paying enormous sums to traffickers in addition to the human cost of imposed by aggressive enforcement.

Migration detention on the rise in Mexico  

With the contention plan, detention becomes an issue of grave concern. Detention centers are already overcrowded, lacking in services and suffering from budget constraints. The appointment of Francisco Garduño as head of the National Migration Institute (INM for its acronym in Spanish) raises a number of red flags, as his previous job was managing the Mexican penitentiary system.  It is expected that his role signals a shift toward a more prison-like detention system— a far cry from the messages just a few weeks ago from Secretary of Governance Olga Sánchez Cordero, declaring the end of migration detention in Mexico.

Guatemala and the United States in negotiations for a “safe third country” agreement

In the days prior to the general elections in Guatemala, the media reported the progress of negotiations between the United States and Guatemala to sign a “safe third country” agreement. The agreement would hinder people in transit through Guatemala who seek asylum in the United States, because Guatemala would be the first “safe country” in which asylum seekers could request protection. The most affected people would be those fleeing from El Salvador and Honduras who must enter by land to Guatemala on their journey North. The United States has this kind of agreement with Canada and if it is signed, Guatemala would become the third “safe country” in the region. After the recent negotiations with the United States, Mexico admitted that it might also sign such an agreement.

The repercussions of such an agreement for the flows of people who transit through the Central America– Mexico – United States corridor have created significant controversy in the region. Guatemala is a country of origin for asylum seekers in the United States: five of the six children who died in US custody since September of 2018, were Guatemalan. Moreover, the conditions of impunity and insecurity in Guatemala raise serious doubts that it could offer safe conditions for people seeking international protection.

Nor have Guatemala or the United States been transparent in the details of the negotiations. On May 31, the two countries signed a “Memorandum of Cooperation”, which, among other things, would allow the mobilization of agents from USA Homeland Security to the Guatemala-Mexico border. Over 30 civil society organizations condemned this agreement and demanded the public disclosure of the details the memorandum. Elections in Guatemala further complicate the panorama, the challenge of how to move forward will be inherited by a new administration after the second round of presidential elections that will be held on August 11.