Washington, DC—Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration sent a notice to Congress stating its intention to redirect US$20 million in foreign assistance funds to the Mexican government to pay for the deportation costs of as many as 17,000 people who are in Mexico “illegally”. This plan comes shortly after reports surfaced that the United States and Mexico had entered into discussions about implementing a “safe third country agreement”, or some other bilateral agreement, that would require asylum seekers transiting through Mexico to apply for protection in that country rather than in the United States. Such an agreement would allow U.S. border officials to turn back asylum seekers at border crossings and quickly return them to Mexico, without screening them for protection.
In a letter sent today to top U.S. and Mexican officials, 27 civil society organizations based in the United States and Mexico urged both governments to abandon these plans. “In addition to documented collaboration between migration enforcement agencies of both countries to obstruct access to protection in the United States at ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, these measures represent threats to an individual’s right to seek asylum in the country they deem safe as well as an abdication of both government’s international obligations to offer an individual access to protection,” the letter states.
The letter expresses concern that Mexico’s asylum system is too weak and overburdened to properly screen migrants for protection, and that Mexico is far from able to function as a “safe third country” for migrants. Migrants in Mexico are frequently victims of abuse by criminal organizations and corrupt Mexican migration and security agents, and these crimes are almost never properly investigated or punished. According to the letter, “U.S. assistance to Mexico should not be directed towards increased detention and deportation and should not support migration and security agencies that have few mechanisms to hold their agents accountable for the abuses they commit against migrants.”
The letter urges the current Mexican government and the incoming administration of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to not accept any funding from the United States if such assistance is directed towards increased violations of migrants’ rights or a violation of international law. “We urge both governments to abandon negotiations around a safe third country agreement and we call on the incoming Mexican government to express its opposition to such plans. Both countries should uphold their international and moral obligations to migrants and refugees, respecting due process, family unity and the right to seek protection in the country they deem safe,” the letter states.