April 29, 2015
Mexico’s Recent Immigration Enforcement Efforts
In 2014 the United States and Mexico experienced an
unprecedented surge in undocumented migration of
unaccompanied children and family units from Central
America. In response, Mexico greatly increased its
immigration enforcement efforts, particularly along its
southern border. In 2014, Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior
(SEGOB) reported that it removed 104,269 migrants who
came from the “northern triangle” (El Salvador, Honduras,
and Guatemala) of Central America. Roughly 17,900 of
those migrants were minors, 8,236 of whom were
unaccompanied. Mexico’s increased enforcement has
contributed to fewer apprehensions of illegal immigrants at
the U.S.-Mexico border. During the first half of FY2015,
U.S. apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the border
were 45% lower, and total apprehensions of family units
were 30% lower than the same period in 2014.
SEGOB reports that from January to late April 2015,
Mexico detained 59,650 migrants, a 77% increase from
the same period of 2014. Of those, 8,710 were
minors, a 54% increase from 2014.
In January 2015, President Obama praised Mexican
President Enrique Peña Nieto for his government’s
increased immigration enforcement efforts. Some have
argued that the U.S. government has pressured the Mexican
government to stave the flow of U.S.-bound illegal
migration from Central America. Others have maintained
that Mexico has been adequately compensated for its efforts
through the Mérida Initiative, which provided $79 million
in U.S. assistance above the Administration’s request for
FY2015, partially to support Mexico’s southern border
efforts. Human rights groups have voiced concerns
regarding Mexico’s management of these complex migrant
flows and have questioned its ability to protect migrants.
Figure 1. “Northern Triangle” Minors Removed by
Mexico in 2014
Source: Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB)
Under this plan, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration
(INAMI) agents have taken on a new enforcement
directive. These unarmed agents have worked with the
military and the police to increase immigration enforcement
efforts along known migrant routes. In 2014, INAMI
reportedly conducted more than 150 raids on northbound
trains that previously transported 500-700 migrants through
Mexico three times a week. Those efforts have pushed
migrants to take new routes, particularly along the
highways. INAMI has invested in security at existing
border crossings and the establishment of more than 140
mobile highway checkpoints. It has also significantly
increased the number of cases it has referred to prosecutors
for crimes against migrants (including alien smuggling).
The creation of a database of biometrics and migration data
is an additional long-term goal of the plan.
Figure 2. Foreign Nationals Taken into Custody by
Mexican Immigration Officials
Mexico’s Southern Border Plan
On July 7, 2014, President Peña Nieto announced a new
Southern Border Plan. The plan increased security at 12
ports of entry with Guatemala and Belize and along known
migration routes in an attempt to (1) protect migrants and
(2) promote regional security and prosperity. It prioritizes:
• regular and ordered migration;
• infrastructure improvements;
• protection of migrants;
• regional shared responsibilities; and
• interagency coordination.
Source: Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM)
In addition to increasing enforcement, the plan aims to
provide basic services to migrants, including medical care
offered at five clinics, and facilitate legal migration for
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Mexico’s Recent Immigration Enforcement Efforts
tourists and laborers from Guatemala and Belize. Citizens
of these countries now have free and readily accessible
visas that allow regular reentry. Visa-processing locations
have been established in Guatemala and Belize; officials
have also sought to register those already within Mexico
without documentation. Mexico aims to be better able to
identify illegal immigrants, while still allowing commerce
and tourism in border states.
Human Rights Concerns
Human rights activists have voiced concerns regarding
Mexico’s protection of migrants’ human rights. The
increase in checkpoints and the crackdown on migrants
traveling on the top of northbound trains has pushed many
migrants to find even more treacherous routes. Some have
stated that these routes may leave migrants more vulnerable
to criminal organizations and human traffickers, with less
access to aid workers and shelters.
Many have voiced concerns that the Southern Border Plan
does little to address the issue of corruption among both
police and government officials. The State Department’s
2014 Trafficking in Persons report documents that migrants
traveling through Mexico are particularly vulnerable to
human rights abuses by both criminal organizations and
corrupt officials. INAMI has made efforts to improve
accountability and integrity within its organization: roughly
one-third of its agents have been dismissed since mid-2014.
While this may indicate improvement within the
organization, the inability or reluctance to prosecute these
agents has left them free to potentially prey on migrants.
According to INAMI, the agency has more than 400 child
protection officers to handle unaccompanied children;
however, they are stretched thin across Mexico’s 32 states.
Mexico’s Asylum and Humanitarian Visa
With limited funds, COMAR lacks the manpower necessary
to inform and process all migrants. The lack of information
about their right to apply and the many months that
migrants must spend in detention while awaiting the results
of their applications appear to have deterred many from
applying. Of those who applied last year, Mexico’s Interior
Ministry reports that COMAR granted asylum to just 12
children. In recent years, COMAR’s approval rate has
averaged roughly 20%.
Mexico also offers those who require international
protection the option to apply for a humanitarian visa.
Humanitarian visas allow a migrant to stay in Mexico for
only a year. The number of migrants provided humanitarian
visas has also remained low at only 332 in 2014, according
to an April 2015 study by Georgetown Law School’s
Human Rights Institute. The study maintained that the
application process for humanitarian visas, as with the
asylum process, is generally long and difficult.
Issues for Congress
Congress has increasingly viewed Mexico’s southern
border as an integral part of U.S. border security and the
Mérida Initiative. At the same time, Congress has
prioritized the protection of human rights in Mexico by
placing human rights-related conditions on Mérida
Initiative funding. Congress may consider how to help
mitigate concerns about migrants’ rights in Mexico.
The State Department has provided Mexico with substantial
equipment and training assistance, including non-intrusive
inspection equipment and canine teams for ports of entry.
This aid has been provided through pillar 3 of the Mérida
Initiative, Creating a 21st Century Border. The Department
of Defense has provided training and equipment to Mexican
military forces patrolling the southern border. Congress
may consider these questions regarding Mexico’s role in
helping to manage illegal migration from Central America.
Humanitarian organizations have also raised concerns about
Mexico’s capacity to screen migration flows from Central
America for migrants who may have been victims of human
trafficking or have valid claims to asylum due to conditions
in their home countries. Recent U.N. High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) studies have found that at least half
of all children fleeing the northern triangle may have
international protection needs.
• To what extent are Mexico’s migration enforcement
Mexico has historically welcomed refugees (those who are
unwilling or unable to return to their home country due to a
well-founded fear of persecution on account of race,
religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a
particular social group). Mexican law states that all
migrants must be informed of their right to apply for
international protection. Nonetheless, human rights activists
have claimed that only 1 out of 10 unaccompanied children
is informed of the right to request asylum. Asylum provides
the migrant with the right to stay in Mexico permanently.
Despite an increase of 17% in asylum applications in 2014,
the Mexican Commission for the Aid of Refugees
(COMAR) received a budget increase of only 4% for 2015.
• Could a portion of Mérida Initiative aid be used to
efforts being conducted in a way that respects due
process and human rights?
• How could the U.S. government better support Mexico’s
recent enforcement efforts?
• How might U.S. assistance help Mexico increase
prosecutions of crimes such as alien smuggling?
strengthen INAMI’s ability to conduct humanitarian
screening to identify vulnerable migrants?
• Could aid be provided to COMAR to help inform
migrants of their rights and assist them in requesting
Ingrid Schulz, Research Associate, contributed to this
Clare Ribando Seelke, email@example.com, 7-5229
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