Pressure from U.S. policies has strained Mexico’s already overwhelmed asylum system and exposed migrants on the Mexico-Guatemala border to additional risks at the hands of government officials and criminal organizations.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Ensuring the safety of migrants and asylum seekers as they transit through—or choose to stay—in Mexico means: working with the Mexican government to strengthen its small and underfunded asylum system, supporting the removal of the Mexican National Guard from border enforcement activities, and collaborating on the investigation of transnational crimes against migrants and asylum seekers.
The Mexican asylum system is under incredible strain. In 2019, Mexico’s asylum agency (COMAR) received 70,302 asylum requests, an eye-popping figure when compared to the 3,424 requests Mexico’s asylum system received in 2015. This points not just to the impact of the Trump administration’s efforts to end the right to asylum as we know it, but also to Mexico’s rising role as a destination country.
As asylum requests have skyrocketed, the budget for Mexico’s asylum system in 2020 is merely $2.35 million. Even with important UNHCR support, the surge in requests and lack of government funding has led to staff shortages and significant wait times. Thousands of migrants have been stranded in poor Mexican towns near the Guatemalan border for months on end while they await an asylum determination. Unless an asylum seeker is able to reach a COMAR office without being apprehended by a migration agent, requesting asylum in Mexico also includes spending time in Mexico’s migrant detention system, which is chronically overcrowded, often lacks basic services, and offers poor food and healthcare to people in vulnerable situations.
Programs like “Remain in Mexico” at the U.S. border and efforts by the Trump administration to bully Mexico into aggressively patrolling its border with Guatemala have exposed migrants to additional risks at the hands of government officials and criminal organizations. Ending U.S. pressure on Mexico will reduce the risks faced by asylum seekers and migrants at the border and on their journey. At the same time, as Mexico increasingly becomes a destination country, expanding the country’s asylum system is critical so that asylum seekers claims are fairly and promptly processed and those who choose to stay are able to settle in to their new lives in Mexico. In addition, the United States should continue to provide financial support for the crucial work of the UNHCR, which is taking on significant responsibilities for filling in gaps in Mexico’s asylum capacity.
President Trump demanded that Mexico “stop” the flow of migrants attempting to reach the United States, or else face tariffs. Mexican authorities reacted by cracking down on migration flows. This crackdown included the deployment of Mexico’s National Guard in a migration enforcement capacity.
Mexico deployed some 12,000 federal security agents, primarily members of its new National Guard force, to its southern border region. Because most of the National Guard personnel come from the Mexican armed forces with little or no appropriate training to work with vulnerable populations, migrants and asylum seekers may be subjected to abuse. The U.S. government should support the ongoing professionalization of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM), the main government body charged with migration enforcement in the country, as well as efforts to strengthen controls on the agency to root out corruption and abusive practices.
Another effect of the crackdown on migration can be seen in the terrible conditions in Mexico’s detention centers. Despite efforts to improve detention centers in the country, increased enforcement activities have inevitably led to more and more overcrowding. For example, in August 2019, facilities were housing on average 61 percent more migrants than they were meant to hold, with some places operating 300 percent over capacity. The United States should support Mexico in upholding its humanitarian obligations and strengthening asylum procedures, rather than pursue enforcement schemes that place asylum seekers and migrants in danger.
Migrants transiting through Mexico continue to suffer assault, robbery, rape, and kidnapping at the hands of organized crime or common criminals who at times work in collusion with Mexican officials.
As of the end of October 2019, the migrant shelter in Tenosique, La 72, had identified 1,125 crime victims among its population. They assisted 36 victims of violent kidnappings between July and September 2019. There have been over 800 publically reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, murder an assault against asylum seekers waiting in Mexico’s northern border towns as part of the “Remain in Mexico.” In the majority of the kidnapping cases, the U.S.-based family members of the victims are extorted for ransom money.
U.S. prosecutors should work with their counterparts from Mexico and Central America to address transnational crimes against migrants and ways to increase collaborations on prosecutions to reduce impunity in these cases.
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Encampments along the U.S.-Mexico border, the result of harsh U.S. policies on asylum, are highly vulnerable right now.
— WOLA (@WOLA_org) March 18, 2020
Listen to our podcast episode on Mexico’s crackdown on its southern border: