Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Migrant Abuse: What About the Police?

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.

News Briefs
  • On top of announcing that she will apply a controversial anti-terrorism law to prosecute those responsible for Monday’s bombing, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced she will also seek reforms to grant greater resources to police and public prosecutors, EFE reports.
  • Mexican police in the southern state of Chiapas have announced the discovery and seizure an illicit coca plantation, confiscating 1,639 plants altogether. It is highly unusual to find large-scale coca growing outside South America’s Andean region, and Animal Politico reports that military authorities have said it is the first such find in history. 
  • In an effort to identify victims killed in Peru’s notorious Los Cabitos detention facility during the country’s armed conflict, the AP and La Republica report that forensic authorities have dug up clothing found on exhumed bodies at the base, which they hope relatives will be able to use to identify the remains of missing loved ones.
  • The government of Venezuela has released long-delayed information on the country’s annual inflation rate, finding that the figure has risen to 63.4 percent. The BBC reports that the number is “the highest in Latin America,” while President Nicolas Maduro claims the inflation rate “slowed in August,” according to El Universal.
  • Following the deportation of two Venezuelan opposition activists from Colombia for allegedly violating their visas, the pair was arrested and is currently being detained at a state intelligence facility in Caracas. The Wall Street Journal reports that the deportation “fueled a backlash against Colombia's government,” and cites analysts who cast the decision as a move by President Juan Manuel Santos to appeal to President Nicolas Maduro rather than the result of an immigration law infraction. Semana offers a more precise view of the incident, pointing out that the “backlash” is largely coming from the conservative opposition, namely former President Alvaro Uribe and his supporters.
  • According to La Prensa, Honduran authorities have arrested former Social Security Institute Director Mario Zelaya, who stands accused of embezzling some 335 million dollars in public funds.
  • The AP has an update on Haiti’s recent prison break, noting that it has focused attention on the massive shortcomings of the country’s prison system, which is marked by overcrowding, corruption, and a general lack of security.