Washington, D.C.—Yesterday evening, 49 Members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to work with Mexican authorities to strengthen the institutional capacity of Mexico’s migration and protection agencies in order to ensure that the children, families, and adults escaping violence in Central America have access to the fair treatment they deserve.
Led by Representative Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and co-signed by 48 Representatives, the letter expresses “concern that apprehensions and deportations of migrants in Mexico are taking place in a way that does not live up to the standards of protection to which both our countries aspire.”
As the letter explains, Central Americans continue to flee in massive numbers; however, the flow of unaccompanied children and families arriving at the U.S. border has decreased significantly, largely as a result of Mexico’s increased migration enforcement. Between July 2014 and June 2015, apprehensions of Central Americans increased by more than 70 percent in Mexico compared to the previous year. In contrast, between October 2014 and September 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 42 percent decrease in apprehensions at the U.S. border of individuals from countries other than Mexico, primarily Central Americans.
In the letter, the Members of Congress state, “As the Government of Mexico continues with its enforcement efforts, we need to find ways to more effectively assist them in continuing to build the institutional capacity of its migration management and protection agencies, including the National Institute for Migration (INM), National System for Integral Family Development (DIF), and the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR).”
This focus on the need for institutional strengthening stems from the fact that there are 1,220 documented complaints of human rights violations committed by INM agents since 2012, and that INM agents have participated in extortion, kidnapping, and other crimes against migrants. The letter cites as an example the September 2015 case in which four INM agents in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas were detained on charges of human smuggling. Additionally, the letter explains that Mexico’s protection agencies—COMAR and DIF—lack the resources needed to adequately manage the large migration flows in the country: COMAR only has 15 officers authorized to adjudicate asylum requests and DIF lacks the shelter space and staff needed to serve unaccompanied children apprehended in Mexico, as a result the children are placed in detention centers with adults.
The letter was endorsed by several U.S. human rights groups, including the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization that works to advance human rights and reduce violence in the Americas. “This letter is a clear signal that, although the issue of Central American migration has largely been displaced to Mexico, there is still concern among U.S. policymakers about the violence Central Americans are fleeing and the lack of due process and protection they receive upon apprehension in Mexico,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “Rather than just focusing cooperation on border management and security, both countries should work together to increase their capacity to protect this vulnerable population.”
WOLA Communications Director