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Report: Mexico Using ‘Racist Criteria’ to Expel Massive Number of Central American Refugees

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Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mexico has militarized immigration enforcement efforts that primarily target Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries while refusing to invest in programs to guarantee their safety, various news reports reveal.

Asylum-seekers, including women and children, are facing torture at the hands of Mexican authorities, the reports suggest.

With the looming Mexican presidential elections on July 1, candidates like the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador — who is expected to win — vows to demilitarize the immigration enforcement, National Public Radio (NPR) reports.

In a speech last Tuesday, Obrador declared:

After the victory of our movement, we will defend all migrants in the American continent and all the migrants in the world. … Military and police force will not be used to repress the [migrant] population. We will primarily use diplomatic channels with the origin countries of these migrants to reach some kind of agreement.

Until then, Central Americans seeking refuge in Mexico are facing various human rights violations not only by criminal groups who demand payment just for passing through but also at the hands of immigration officials accused of using “a secret quota system” to increase the number of deportations.

The Guardian reported in April:

A growing number of indigenous Mexicans are being detained and threatened with expulsion by immigration agents looking for undocumented Central American migrants. The trend comes amid a crackdown on migrants driven in part by political pressure and financial aid from the US.

Deportations have already risen exponentially since summer 2014 when Barack Obama declared the surge in Central American child migrants a humanitarian crisis. Campaigners say that Mexico migration officials are running a secret quota system to increase the number of expulsions.

Activists say that Mexico’s National Immigration Institute is increasingly operating like an unchecked police force – and say that that like the country’s security forces, it appears to be systematically using torture against detainees.

Gretchen Kuhener, director of the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI), described the quota system allegedly employed by immigration agents as “racist.”

While Mexico blasted U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy on undocumented as “cruel and inhuman,” Mexican immigration authorities were engaging in various human rights violations when dealing with prospective refugees from Central America, human rights NGOs report. Mexico has also “improperly” returned “asylum seekers to their countries of persecution” in violation of international law and suppressing asylum claims by Central American, the Guardian and Human Rights First report.

According to the Doctors Without Borders groups, known as MSF for its French name, Mexico has failed to protect asylum-seeking women and children, identified as especially vulnerable, from violence within its borders.

Over the last five years, asylum claims have reportedly increased more than ten-fold from 1,296 in 2013 to 14,596 last year, the most recent data available.

Of those who applied last year, Mexico only approved less than 15 percent (1,907), the Associated Press (AP) reported in January, stressing that Mexico is forcing Central Americans back to their violence-stricken countries.

In March, Human Rights First noted:

Since July 2017, the dangers facing refugees and migrants in Mexico have escalated. Recent reports confirm that Mexican authorities continue to improperly return asylum seekers to their countries of persecution and that the deficiencies in the Mexican asylum system have grown.

The Mexican government is obligated [by international law] to prevent the return (refoulement) of any person to a country where they would face ongoing threats of persecution or torture. Human Rights First found that Mexico deports many refugees who are blocked or discouraged from seeking asylum in Mexico, or who do not even know they can apply for asylum. Subsequent reports indicate that these practices, which lead to the return of refugees to their countries of persecution, continue.

Mexico is not expected to devote additional money to its refugee programs to accommodate the growing number of refugees expected to reach its borders in the next few months, in response to crime, violence, and unstable governments in places like Nicaragua and Venezuela.

“Mexico has not invested in its refugee program,” José Knippen, the chief of the immigration and refugee program at the Mexico City think tank Fundar, told NPR.

Sister Magdalena Silva, who runs the migrant shelter, reportedly indicated, “the Mexican government’s refugee assistance agency has a 2018 budget of just $1.3 million and only has 15 protection agents in the entire country responsible for making decisions on more than 7,000 pending asylum claim.”

She added, “There are never enough resources for Central Americans fleeing [the] violence.”

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