Washington, D.C.—Today Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) together with 32 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern for the safety of migrants traveling through Mexico. The letter urges that this issue be incorporated as part of the United States' bilateral dialogue with Mexico, a step supported by groups like the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights advocacy group with over 30 years of expertise in U.S.-Mexican relations.
The letter states that “The horrific massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico in August 2010 raised international attention of the dangers that migrants face while traveling through this country, however since then little has been done to effectively address this humanitarian crisis. Migrants in transit through Mexico are increasingly victims of kidnapping by organized criminal groups, at times with the complicity or direct collaboration of local, state, and federal authorities.”
U.S. security cooperation with Mexico through the Merida Initiative provides important support for Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) and the Mexican Federal Police, yet agents of both forces have been implicated in human rights violations against migrants and working in collusion with kidnapping rings. It is in the context of this support that the Members of Congress are calling on Secretary Clinton to ensure that “strengthening Mexico’s efforts to evaluate performance and increase the accountability of its security forces, including the Federal Police and the INM, should be key elements of U.S. assistance to Mexico as a way to ensure that crimes and human rights violations committed by members of these federal agencies do not go unpunished.”
According to Maureen Meyer, Mexico expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), "thousands of migrants suffer abuses including torture, extortion, robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault on their journey through Mexico. No human being should be subject to these abuses, regardless of their legal status.”
As WOLA describes in the report, A Dangerous Journey Through Mexico, issued jointly with the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center in December 2010, because of their undocumented status, migrants traveling through Mexico have long been subject to abuse by criminal groups and Mexican authorities. However, in recent years, the expansion of organized criminal groups in Mexico has added one additional layer of danger to the trip. It is estimated that at least 20,000 migrants in transit, mostly Central Americans, have been kidnapped in Mexico in the past year. Approximately 6 out of every 10 migrant women are sexually assaulted while they travel through Mexico.
In 2008, Mexico passed a reform so that violations of the immigration statute—such as illegally entering the country—are no longer criminal offences. Earlier this year, the Mexican Congress also approved a new Migration Law which provides the basic framework for addressing migration issues in the country. Additionally, after the massacre of the migrants in Tamaulipas in 2010, the Mexican government implemented the Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Combat the Kidnappings of Migrants in Mexico.
“In spite of these reforms, migrants continue to suffer widespread abuses in Mexico,” according to Meyer. “Mounting evidence shows that the plight of this vulnerable population is not a priority for the Mexican government.” Over a year after the massacre in Tamaulipas, 82 individuals have been detained as suspects, but not a single person has been sentenced. In October 2011, the body of a Honduran migrant woman was found strangled near the train tracks in Lechería, in the State of Mexico. In August of this year, a Guatemalan migrant was also beaten to death in the same area. The shelter that provides assistance to the migrants in Lechería has also received multiple threats.
Because of the transnational nature of migration, the human rights of migrants should be a priority for the source, transit, and destination countries alike. “Just as the United States government needs to address the widespread abuses against migrants in this country, the Mexican government also has the responsibility to prevent abuses against migrants in Mexico and to prosecute those responsible for these crimes,” Meyer affirms.
Senior Associate for Mexico and Central America, WOLA