Washington, D.C.—In a report released today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) reveals that, far from deterring migrants from making the journey north, the most notable effects of Mexico’s Southern Border Program have been a significant uptick in apprehensions and changes in where and how migrants are traveling. These changes expose migrants to new vulnerabilities, while isolating them from the network of shelters established along traditional routes.
From when it was announced in July 2014 to June 2015, Mexico’s stepped-up migration enforcement resulted in a 71 percent increase in apprehensions of Central American migrants and potential refugees, compared to the same period one year earlier. Based on research and visits during the last two years to Mexico’s southern border zone, WOLA researchers found that Mexico’s increased apprehension and rapid deportation of migrants has not been paired with a greater capacity to screen them for protection concerns, leading many to be deported back to dangerous situations in their home countries.
“Many people from Central America fleeing violence and persecution would likely qualify for asylum in Mexico,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “Rather than quickly deporting them, the Mexican government should step up its efforts to adequately screen migrants for protection concerns and grant asylum to those who qualify.”
The report’s authors also documented a modest increase in the number of migration agents and security forces deployed in southern Mexico, as well as an increase in mobile checkpoints and the number of customs facilities. While multiple government agencies are stepping up their efforts to address human trafficking and smuggling, coordination between these groups continues be a challenge, and the effects of prosecutions so far have been limited. The most visible and aggressive enforcement efforts have been raids in areas which migrants frequent, and operations to prevent migrants from riding atop cargo trains, prompting concerns about excessive use of force and other abuses by the authorities involved.
“If you are a Central American migrant or asylum-seeker, the Southern Border Program has hit you hard, among other effects, increasing the amount of money you may be paying your smuggler,” said Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Regional Security. “But if you are a citizen of the border zone, you have not seen any improvement in your own physical security or economic well-being. The Southern Border Program hasn’t made a dent in violent crime, large-scale drug transshipment, or the corruption that allows organized crime and migrant exploitation to flourish.”
Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border: An Update on Security, Migration, and U.S. Assistance outlines what is known about the increase in U.S. assistance to help Mexico secure its southern border region, including military aid and its recipients. The report calls on future U.S. assistance to move beyond border management and increase support for institutional reforms to Mexico’s public security, migration, and judicial institutions, as well as to prioritize protection for vulnerable persons and asylum seekers.
The report also highlights that, while Mexico’s increased apprehension of migrants and potential refugees has not resolved the challenges that led to the 2014 “wave” of Central Americans arriving at the U.S. border, it has reduced the sense of urgency in the United States to support addressing the “root causes” of that migration. As the U.S. Congress continues to debate increased assistance to Central America, it is crucial that, in order for this assistance to be effective, it be directed to those countries or agencies that have demonstrated the political will to tackle violence, insecurity, and poverty, and to address the corruption and weak institutions that afflict the countries of the Northern Triangle.
WOLA also announces the November 18, 2015 launch of the joint report An Uncertain Path: Justice for Crimes and Human Rights Violations against Migrants and Refugees in Mexico, produced in collaboration with Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación, Casa del Migrante de Saltillo “Frontera con Justicia,” La 72 Hogar—Refugio para Personas Migrantes, Albergue de Migrantes “Hermanos en el Camino,” the Red Sonora (Kino Border Initiative, Centro Comunitario de Atención al Migrante y Necesitado, and Centro de Recursos para Migrantes), and Un mundo, Una Nación. Details about the launch in Mexico City, D.F. are forthcoming.