Washington, D.C.—After a 2014 “surge” of unaccompanied minor migrants from Central America that set off alarms in the United States, the government of Mexico is now detaining more Central Americans than the United States, according to government data analyzed by the research and advocacy organization Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
This shift becomes apparent when combining data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Mexico’s National Institute for Migration (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM) for the first seven months of fiscal year 2015. Between October 2014 and April 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol detained 70,448 “Other than Mexican” citizens at its border. The overwhelming majority of these were Central Americans, but we do not yet know exactly how many. During this same period, Mexican authorities detained 92,889 Central Americans in Mexico.
“These numbers are striking. They show that the so-called ‘surge’ of 2014 hasn’t really ended. Enormous numbers of Central Americans are still fleeing, but most of them are now getting caught in Mexico instead of the United States,” said Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security. “This means it’s just as urgent as it was last year to address the violence and poverty driving Central American migration. But Mexico’s aggressive efforts against migrants have masked the sense of urgency that we should be feeling here in the United States about Central America’s humanitarian crisis.”
Without that sense of urgency, Congress has been less willing to focus on “root causes” in Central America. Today, the House Appropriations Committee is approving a 2016 foreign aid bill that deeply cuts the Obama administration’s requested US$1 billion in new assistance for the region.
“The Obama administration has found a way to hide the so-called crisis of Central American migrants at the border, but at what cost?” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “We are 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,” Meyer continued.
The dramatic increase of detention and deportation from Mexico raises troubling humanitarian questions. Migrant shelters have reported excesses in the use of force by authorities involved in raids on freight trains and in communities. Asylum lawyers have noted multiple violations of due process for asylum seekers in Mexico; few migrants have the opportunity to tell their stories before they are deported. Widespread crimes against migrants in Mexico, including human trafficking, kidnapping, and rape, continue unpunished. And operations along traditional migrant routes may simply be pushing migrants to more treacherous overland and maritime routes, resulting in shifts in the criminal networks preying on migrants and further enriching smugglers who can charge more for their services.
In the past week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations, and Mexico’s own human rights ombudsman (National Commission for Human Rights, Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), have called on the government of Mexico to do more to protect vulnerable children and other migrants. Meanwhile, the United States government has been quietly supplying Mexico with border security equipment and training while praising Mexico’s crackdown.
“The United States has officially displaced the problem to Mexico, and Mexico has taken on the role of the new ‘Deporter-in-Chief,’” said Meyer.