Washington, DC—Immigration and border security will undoubtedly be part of the agenda at President Obama’s meeting today with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto’s visit comes just days after the Republican Party presented its 2016 party platform at the national convention, which calls for building a wall between the United States and Mexico. The party also confirmed Donald Trump as its presidential nominee, who has referred to Mexican migrants as criminals and rapists.
“It is important that Peña Nieto has taken a strong stance on anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric in the United States. Unfortunately, Mexico fails to ensure protections for migrants in its own country, carrying out mass deportations of Central Americans, even children—many of whom are fleeing violence and could qualify for refugee status,” said Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization.
With the launch of its Southern Border Plan (Programa Frontera Sur, PFS) in 2014, Mexico has dramatically increased its migration enforcement efforts. Between 2014 and 2015, apprehensions of Central American migrants in Mexico increased by 50 percent, to 179,618 apprehensions in 2015. Over 60,000 Central Americans were apprehended by Mexican authorities in the first five months of 2016.
An August 2014 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report surveyed 200 unaccompanied children detained in Mexico and found that 48.6 percent had left their homes because of violence. The same UNHCR report found that only 27 percent of unaccompanied minors detained in Mexico stated that they had been informed of their right to request asylum.
The number of people recognized as refugees or qualifying for some form of protection in Mexico is shockingly low when compared to the total number of apprehensions. In 2015, Mexico apprehended 198,141 foreigners. In the same year, only 3,423 people requested protection in Mexico and of these, only 32 percent were granted refugee status or complementary protection. Although requests for asylum increased by 60 percent between 2014 and 2015, and the approval rate went up slightly (from 25 percent to 32 percent), less than 2 percent of all of the migrants apprehended in Mexico requested asylum and only 0.5 percent of all apprehended migrants were granted protection (1,091).
“Migrants traveling through Mexico have long been subject to horrific crimes at the hands of organized criminal groups and increasingly at the hands of the authorities themselves,” said Meyer. “There are countless cases of extortion, kidnapping, robbery, and sexual assault against migrants in which the perpetrators are never investigated and sanctioned.”
In 2015, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) received 688 complaints of human rights violations committed by authorities from Mexico’s National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración, INM), which represents a 53 percent increase compared to 2014. Between December 2012 and June 15, 2015, the CNDH received 1,617 complaints of human rights violations against migrants, including 1,220 committed by the INM and 143 by the Federal Police.
“The United States and Mexico must have a frank conversation about anti-immigrant sentiments and the lack of protections for this vulnerable population. Both countries should increase their screening capacity and ensure that they are not deporting Central Americans back to situations where their lives are in danger,” said Meyer.