Washington, D.C.—A new analysis by WOLA and the Mexican organization Sin Fronteras highlights new asylum data from the government of Mexico. The data demonstrates that Mexico is failing to respond to a growing need to protect asylum seekers. The analysis notes that in 2014 Mexico detained more than 107,000 migrants from Central America, yet it only recognized 451 people as refugees.
“Substantial numbers of these migrants—a lot of them children and families—are fleeing violence and poverty,” said Geoff Thale, WOLA Program Director. “Many would qualify for asylum or refugee status if given the chance to tell their stories to authorities,” he concluded.
WOLA analysts recently discovered that, after a 2014 “surge” of unaccompanied minor migrants from Central America that set off alarm bells in the United States, the government of Mexico is now detaining more Central Americans than the United States. In just one year, Mexico’s apprehensions of Central American migrants increased by more than 80 percent, from 49,893 to 92,889.
Yet violence in Central America is not subsiding. Honduras and El Salvador are now the most violent countries in the world. Honduras has a homicide rate of 68 homicides per 100,000 people. This year El Salvador threatens to top Honduras. In fact, in recent weeks, El Salvador saw a frightening spike in homicides, exceeding the numbers seen during its bloody civil war.
Few Central Americans apply for asylum in Mexico. In 2014, only 1,769 individuals from the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) formally sought asylum in Mexico, out of a total of 2,137 applicants. In many cases, potential asylum seekers do not know their rights. Even those asylum seekers who know their rights and decide to apply for asylum are often persuaded, by government authorities from the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, COMAR) to not to apply.
Furthermore, Mexico’s protection infrastructure lacks capacity: COMAR grew by only five percent between 2014 and 2015, and the agency only has fifteen agents to carry out asylum interviews throughout the country, despite the spike in the number of apprehensions. In addition, many migrant families face a difficult choice: to be deported or apply for protection and then remain in detention during the legal proceedings.
“Over half of these [migrant] children probably qualify for international protection, meaning they are fleeing valid claims of violence, family violence, or violence by gangs in the street that would let them have some type of protection in the United States and Mexico,” said WOLA Senior Associate Maureen Meyer during a recent interview with MSNBC’s Maria Teresa Kumar.
The Obama administration requested US$1 billion in new assistance for Central America to address the “root causes” of migration. Given Mexico’s increased enforcement role, the U.S. Congress is no longer feeling the sense of urgency it did last year. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a 2016 foreign aid bill that deeply cut the Obama administration’s aid request.
“The United States is asking Mexico to detain and deport migrants for us, and Mexico has clearly done that. But in the process tens of thousands of vulnerable children and families are getting sent back into harm’s way without getting the chance to seek protection or refugee status,” said Meyer.