WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
4 Jun 2013 | Commentary | News

Unsafe Deportation Practices that put Migrants at Risk

Night deportations

A recent survey by researchers at the University of Arizona of over 1,100 migrants in shelters in Mexican border cities found that approximately one in five migrants reported being deported between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.[i] Projecting this number to all deportations to Mexico suggests that tens of thousands of migrants are being deported at night. Returning any migrant at night hours leaves deportees lacking shelter, bus services, and wire transfer services. At times, they may even be in danger: all of Mexico’s six border states are included in the State Department’s November 2012 travel warning for Mexico. Migrants in these states are often victims of kidnapping, abuse, and extortion by criminal organizations and, at times, by Mexican officials. Estimates by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission suggest that approximately 20,000 migrants are kidnapped every year in the country.

More migrants deported to increasingly dangerous Mexican border cities

Between 2009 and 2012, research by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) noted a disturbing trend: the United States increased repatriations to Mexican border cities in Coahuila and Tamaulipas states, where homicides at the time were rising—a key indicator of increasing danger. Where homicides were dropping, as in Sonora and Baja California states, U.S. authorities chose to repatriate fewer migrants.[ii] While the security crisis in Mexico’s border zones continues, determinations of sites for repatriation must take into account security conditions, assessed on current data about risks.


The services available to deported migrants should also be a factor. Tijuana, Baja California state, where the United States reduced deportations by one-third between 2009 and 2012, has 12 migrant shelters. In contrast, one only shelter operates in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state (across from Texas), yet the number of migrants deported to this city more than quintupled in this period.[iii]

Social services available in Mexican border cities[iv]

Lateral Deportations

The practice of “lateral repatriation,” officially termed the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP), also puts some migrants at risk. The program moves undocumented male migrants from the sector where they were detained to another location, often hundreds of miles away. The rationale is to disrupt the connection between migrants and the smugglers with whom they originally crossed, thus making it harder to attempt another border crossing.

Concerns about the program include the effects of repatriating Mexican migrants to cities with which they are unfamiliar, and which may lack safety and social services, and the separation of families. When a man and his wife are traveling together, and if he is laterally repatriated, his wife may also be at risk as she will be repatriated alone and with no knowledge of the whereabouts of her husband. Multiple accounts indicate that migrants, especially those unfamiliar with their cities of arrival, are preyed upon by gangs and organized criminal groups when deported from the United States.[v]

The University of Arizona migrant survey as well as data collected through the Undocumented Migration Project at the University of Michigan suggests that ATEP appears to have no impact on whether or not a migrant will attempt to cross the border again.[vi] A recent Congressional Research Service report similarly found that the recidivism (repeat crossing) rate for migrants who have been laterally repatriated through ATEP is notably higher than the average recidivism rate of migrants who have been processed through the Border Patrol’s ten different enforcement programs.[vii] One reason for this is that the majority of the migrants crossing the border are deportees who are trying to reunite with their families and return to what they consider home. Almost 75 percent of the Mexican migrants surveyed by the University of Arizona has previously lived and worked in the United States for an average of seven years; almost 25 percent reported having U.S. born children.


[i]“In the Shadow of the Wall: Family Separation, Immigration Enforcement and Security” Preliminary Data from the Migrant Border Crossing Study, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, April 2013. http://las.arizona.edu/sites/las.arizona.edu/files/UA_Immigration_Report2013web.pdf

[ii]Government of Mexico, Secretaría de Gobernación, Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, “Incidencia Delictiva Nacional, Fuero Común” (Mexico: SNSP, 2013) http://www.secretariadoejecutivosnsp.gob.mx/es/SecretariadoEjecutivo/Incidencia_Delictiva_Nacional_fuero_comun

Government of Mexico, Secretaría de Gobernación, Instituto Nacional de Migración, “Boletines Estadísticos” (Mexico: Centro de Estudios Migratorios, 2013) http://www.inm.gob.mx/index.php/page/Boletines_Estadisticos

[iii]Government of Mexico, Secretaría de Gobernación, Instituto Nacional de Migración, “Boletines Estadísticos,” op. cit.

Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Campus Mexicali, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Directorio de Organizaciones Sociales que Atienden a Migrantes en la Frontera Norte de México (Mexicali: IIS, 2013) https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByHZE7WNNIsfaG9EZmxHdDRrMG8/edit

[iv]IIS-Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Survey of Civil Society, 2009-2010.

[v]Daniel Hernandez, “Does U.S. deportation program put migrants in harm’s way?” The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles: September 29, 2011) http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2011/09/mexico-zetas-deportation-illegal-immigration-letter-exit-transfer.html

Richard Marosi, “Deportees to Mexico’s Tamaulipas preyed upon by gangs,” The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles: September 8, 2012) http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/08/local/la-me-deportee-danger-20120909

Nick Miroff, “Lateral deportation: Migrants crossing the Mexican border fear a trip sideways,” The Washington Post (Washington: February 12, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/02/12/lateral-deportation-migrants-crossing-the-mexican-border-fear-a-trip-sideways/

[vi]Jason De Leon, “The Efficacy and Impact of the Alien Transfer Exit Program: Migrant Perspectives from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico,” International Migration, International Organization for Migration, 2013.

[vii] Marc R. Rosenblum, “Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between Ports of Entry,” Congressional Research Service (May 3, 2013) http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42138.pdf