Officials in the United States, Mexico and Central America have reportedly agreed to create a joint working group tasked with proposing ways to stem the root causes of migration, including protecting youths from gangs in their home countries, and from cartels along the journey north.
But the announcement makes no mention of abuse at the hands of corrupt Mexican corrupt law enforcement and migration officials, a striking omission considering their widespread involvement in migrant exploitation.
According to a Justice Department press statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with his counterparts from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras yesterday in Mexico City, where they agreed to establish a joint “high-level working group” of prosecutors from each country. At the meeting, the group discussed “how to best confront the smugglers of these unaccompanied children, the violent gangs who victimize them in their home countries, and the cartels who tax or exploit them in their passage.”
While these authorities deserve praise for recognizing the vulnerability of minors in Central American migrant-sending communities and the abuses they face along the way, this statement ignores the full picture of exploitation along migration routes through Mexico.
In reality, smugglers, gangs and cartels are not the only threats faced by migrants who make the dangerous trek north. They are also commonly victimized by corrupt state agents, including police and authorities with the National Institute of Migration (INM).
According to a 2013 survey of 113 cases of abuse conducted by a migrant shelter in Coahuila state, migrants identified Mexican Federal Police as the main exploiters of their situation. Some 47 percent of those who had been extorted said Mexican police had demanded money from them, compared to just 16 and 8 percent who blamed Mexican criminal groups and Central American street gangs, respectively.
In its 2013 annual report, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission identified the INM as among the top ten government agencies to receive complaints of human rights abuses, with a total of 454 separate allegations.
Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report documenting the numerous abuses committed against migrants by Mexican authorities, noting that many migrants report being “stopped on trains they were travelling on, stripped of their possessions, having their documents confiscated or destroyed, [and being] assaulted physically and psychologically.”
The prevalence of abuse of power by Mexican officials along migrant routes has been a consistent criticism from Mexican and international human rights advocates alike. In a Monday column for Sin Embargo, researcher Jose Knippen of Mexico’s Fundar writes that a new “Southern Border Program” launched by the governments of Guatemala and Mexico, fails to properly protect migrants. Among Knippen’s main critiques is the assertion that the program contains no mechanisms to root out and punish corrupt officials.
And in a June analysis, WOLA’s Maureen Meyer and Clay Boggs identify abuse against migrants as “the other crisis” associated with the recent surge in Central American migration, arguing that the U.S. should tie its Merida Initiative aid money to both the INM and federal police to a commitment to ending abuse.
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