MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Talk of illegal immigration in the United States tends to center around on the 1,969-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. Yet, the immigration situation in Central America is significantly more complicated than a unidirectional flow of migrants from Mexico to the U.S.
The recently publicized crisis of migrant children from Central America seeking refuge on the U.S. southern border has drawn global attention to the realities of immigration throughout the region. As a result, slightly more consideration is being given to Mexico’s own southern border in recent years.
While Mexico is indeed a major point of origin for U.S.-bound migrants, it is also a destination point for many Central Americans as well as a main transit point for South Americans and Central Americans making their way north. In 2013, Mexico deported 89,000 Central American migrants, the majority coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
In light of the large-scale exodus out of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras driven by rampant gang and drug violence, Mexico has revealed a new face of immigration policy. While the general public in Mexico is sympathetic when it comes to issues of immigration and is critical of the U.S.’ hardline approach, president Enrique Peña Nieto’s government is feeling the pressure as migrants continue to pour across the poorly enforced southern border of Mexico.
The 714-mile border between Mexico and Guatemala is incredibly porous compared to Mexico’s northern border and is characterized by invisible lines, bribery and poorly coordinated security policies. The Washington Office on Latin America holds that an increase in security personnel, technology and barriers on the Mexico-Guatemala border will only serve to aggravate an already violent atmosphere without reducing trafficking or the flow of migrants.
Migrants traveling throughout Central America are extremely vulnerable to many different kinds of abuse, including extortion, assault, rape, robbery and document destruction. Gangs, smugglers and even government officials see desperate migrants as easy targets.
WOLA holds that if government personnel are complicit in human rights abuses of Central American migrants, aid packages supporting border security such as President Bush’s $1.4 billion Merida Initiative would be more effective if accompanied by improved accountability and oversight. In a place such as Mexico where the rule of law is seldom respected, warns WOLA, increasing the strength of law enforcement may serve only to place migrants in an even more vulnerable position.
On order to moving forward, WOLA recommends that Mexico place a greater value on human rights, consistently prosecute cases of abuse suffered by migrants and improve the currently appalling conditions of its detainment centers. The human rights organization has also vocalized that the United States should also be mindful of its involvement in Mexico’s immigration situation, being careful not to fund or endorse the use of Mexican armed forces for immigration control and actively providing oversight in order to fight corruption at every turn.
– Kayla Strickland
Sources: The New York Times, Latin America Working Group, Washington Office on Latin America
Photo: Mexico Institute