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Last updateFri, 16 Aug 2019 11am

Mexico struggles to keep migrants safe, lawyer says

A Guadalajara-based immigration lawyer who helps refugees says Mexico is unprepared to contain the flow of migrants trying to reach the United States while also respecting their human rights.

“There are currently 85 nationalities coming through Mexico en route to the United States,” said “Jorge Mateos,” who withheld his real identity for security reasons. “Everyone’s coming, even Africans through Guatemala and Belize.”

To avoid tariffs on exports and comply with a deal cut with the White House in June, Mexico has deployed 20,000 members of its newly-formed National Guard and reportedly reduced the migration flow to the U.S.-Mexico border by 36 percent over the past 45 days.

The inflated military presence along Mexico’s northern and southern borders, however, has raised human rights concerns. 

“They aren’t prepared, they don’t have protocols or strategies,” said Mateos. “In Mexico, there aren’t any guidelines to facilitate deportations appropriately. There aren’t enough resources to care for so many.”

Mateos continued: “This is a complicated matter. There is the human factor for the migrants on one hand – their rights, transit and wellbeing. On the other, we are dealing with an economic matter for Mexico. What’s more important? Well, both are. We must respect the integrity of a person, yet at the same time, the economy of this country isn’t all that great.”

Mateos said that after the Lopez Obrador administration took office in December 2018, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard issued a document permitting migrants safe passage to the United States or any other country.  “However, they didn’t consider the increase of migrant caravans. Nobody ever imagined that there would be so many people,” the lawyer said.

Ebrard, whose stance has hardened since Trump’s threat of tariffs, said it is worrying that “anonymous people” are passing through the country, and in this regard their safety cannot be ensured.

Even prior to the recent militarization, Mateos said, Mexican immigration officers regularly violated the rights of refugees. The lawyer said he has worked with migrants, who regardless of having the proper papers were still detained, interrogated and suspected of having false credentials. And when the victims try to press charges, the outcome rarely falls in their favor, he noted. 

From Mateos’ perspective, the answer to the immigration crisis lies in regional and national development, especially in terms of promoting education. Higher human development will naturally reduce the need for people to emigrate, the lawyer said.

Moreover, Mateos believes that Mexico could become a new land of opportunity for immigrants, potentially taking some weight off of the United States’ shoulders. He is seeing that more migrants are deciding to stay in Mexico instead of facing the stigma of returning home as “failures” if they end up getting deported.

“If Mexico was to implement a new economic plan and invest in education, technology and the countryside, there wouldn’t be such a necessity for people to search for a better life in the United States. Nowadays, the Venezuelans I work with are talking about the ‘Mexican Dream,’ hailing Mexico as a country of opportunity.”

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