The human cost of pushing migration enforcement southward

15 October, 2019  According to official sources, the number of people apprehended at the US southern border has dropped significantly to around 52,500 for the month of September.  This marks the fourth month in a row of declining border apprehension numbers.  The Trump Administration attributes the decline to its new, harsher policies, but other observers note that it also coincides with the expected variation in migration for this time of year.

At the end of last week, we learned that Kevin McAleenan had resigned as Director of Homeland Security (DHS) McAleenan had become a major player in the aggressive migration enforcement actions aimed at curbing Central American migration, visiting Central America several times.  Under his watch, stopping the flows from Central America took precedent over many other homeland security threats, including violent white supremecists, which were just recently recognized as an important threat to national security.  Just a few days earlier, Secretary McAlenaan had attempted to deliver a keynote address at Georgetown University, but was forced to leave the stage due to protests. His presentation, which had been uploaded previously to the DHD website attributed the reduction in migration to “international partnerships”, referring to recent agreements with México, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and specifically to the 25,000 members of the Mexican National Guard now functioning as migration police, the newly created “Border patrol” in El Salvador, the US advisors who are working with the Guatemalan government on border operations.

As the US was touting its successes in repressing migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders released a new report on the impacts of violence on mental health in Honduras.  The study showed that the impact of cruel and inhuman migration policies can be measured not only in loss of life but also in the mental health of populations affected by policies that seek to stop migration flows and deny people their rights to protection.

Trapped on Both Borders in Mexico

The level of desperation of migrants and asylum seekers who are stuck at both the southern and northern border in Mexico, under the migration containment measures, has again reached a boiling.  New protest action broke out at several sites in Mexico this week. acciones de protesta

On Mexico’s southern border, in Tapachula there were new confrontations enfrentamientos  between African migrants and asylum seekers and the staff of the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM). African migrants continue to demand  documents that would allow them to continue their journey northward. After months of waiting, a new caravan comprised of more than 2000 people departed Tapachula on October 12, with the goal of reaching the US border.  That group was detained just a few hours later by the National Guard and INM agents. This came just a day after Center Centro Fray Matias reported the deaths of two Cameroonian individuals who were attempting to evade the blockade and drowned when their boat sank off the Mexican coast. In Tenosique, Tabasco, another southern border region, the Shelter La72 sounded the alarm about dramatic upticks in violence against migrants, including kidnappings and threats against shelter staff.

On the northern border, tensions escalated due to the MPP (Remain in Mexico) policies                                      which have left individuals and families waiting for months on the Mexican side of the border for US asylum hearings.  A group decided to block the international bridge between Tamaulipas and Texas, blocking both truck and pedestrian traffic as they demanded a response to their asylum requests.   

The tensions on both borders are palpable and with no near-term resolution in sight, as long as the governments of the region continue to ignore the human costs of policies that deny protection and put people at risk

Health Risks in Detention in Mexico 

In other news from Mexico, a new report from Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia A.C. (Insyde) suggests that lack of medical care contributed to the deaths of four people in INM custody in 2019.  The organization noted that the 58 permanent and provisional migration stations across the country have access to only 31 doctors and 5 psychologists.  In addition, there are no protocols or manuals for responding to medical emergencies. Migration agents must use their discretion to decide when a person should be transported for emergency treatment.  This constitutes a serious risk to health for individuals in migration custody and will require significant changes in order to meet basic human rights guarantees.