August 6, 2019 – Soon after the Jimmy Morales government in Guatemala signed an asylum agreement under threats from the Trump Administration, the United States is now pushing for more countries in the region to sign similar agreements. El Salvador and Costa Rica have already begun exploring options for establishing these agreements, while ongoing debates revolve around whether other countries in a region suffering from epidemics of violence, impunity and hunger are safe enough to grant protections to asylum seekers fleeing those very conditions.
Attempts from the United States to urge other countries in Central America to sign asylum agreements constitute a serious attack against democracy in the region. The Trump administration cannot manufacture safe conditions with these agreements. Agreements do not create security, nor do they generate necessary social, political and economic conditions to establish alternatives for survival apart from fleeing. Countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are already unable to guarantee protections for their own populations; until these underlying problems are addressed, the mass exodus from these countries will continue.
New attacks on asylum, now from the US Senate
Last week Thursday, policymakers in the United States Senate took unprecedented action to advance a bill that would essentially end protections for asylum seekers at the border. Senator Lindsey Graham, in a last-ditch effort to get his Secure and Protect Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, waived committee rules and gained enough votes from Republicans to move the bill to the Senate floor. If passed into law, the Secure and Protect Act will, among other things, increase the number of days asylum-seeking families are allowed to be held in border detention, require unaccompanied children to be put into immediate deportation proceedings, and only accept asylum claims that are made in the country of origin.
Senator Graham’s insistence on rewriting rules to advance his agenda comes only days after a federal court rejected a new rule from the Trump administration seeking to eliminate asylum at the southern border, and highlights increasing pressure from within the Republican party to severely restrict the asylum process at all costs.
Mexico’s shameful role in migrant torture and death
Last week, disturbing new reports revealed miserable conditions for minors and adults detained at a state-run migration station in Iztapalapa, south of Mexico City. The Mexican newspaper El País shared testimonies of two families detained in the center who have been subjected to overcrowding, maltreatment, and lack of medical care. In mid-May, a Guatemalan girl died while being detained at the center. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has found similar conditions in centers throughout Mexico and recently concluded that the Government of Mexico continues to implement practices considered to be “torture” against migrants and asylum seekers.
[On this subject we invite you to view the recording of our virtual seminar Mexico before the Committee against Torture, held on July 31].
In addition to grave conditions in migration detention, Mexican federal agencies continue to organize attacks against migrants and asylum seekers around the country. On July 31, a Honduran man was murdered during an operation by the Federal Police, National Institute of Migration and Special Operations in Saltillo, Coahuila. According to reports from Casa del Migrante de Saltillo, the man was a part of a group who had just left the shelter, and was shot and killed in front of his eight year old daughter. The investigation has already tried to portray the victim as a criminal, arguing that he was carrying a firearm when he was shot.
This death is the latest example of an increasingly hostile approach taken by the Mexican government towards migrants and those in search of protection. These efforts, implemented in part due to pressure from the United States to control migration in the region, has already reduced the flow of migrants into the United States by 40%, according to authorities. Mexico must take responsibility for this death, give necessary protection to the victim’s daughter and family, and step back from this erroneous approach of addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis of the region. If these policies of containment remain in place, Mexico will continue to attack and endanger migrants who are unable to exercise their right to seek protection in countries where they feel safe.