Migrants Deported to Mexico Confront Criminals and Predatory Officials

When the United States starts imposing border rules that make it harder for migrants to claim asylum, many will likely face swift deportation to Mexico, where they will be vulnerable to criminal gangs and corrupt officials, according to human rights groups.

Mexico's role as Washington's law enforcement agency to prevent migrants heading illegally to the United States through Mexican territory will be made even more significant by Thursday's lifting of a Covid-era policy known as Title 42, which stopped large numbers of migrants from entering at the border and allowed US authorities to quickly expel they.

In talks last week with the Biden administration, Mexico said it would accept non-Mexican migrants sent back from the United States under new rules and would process them for Mexican asylum.

But while the asylum system in the United States is plagued by backlogs, the situation in Mexico is just as dire, with asylum cases lingering for years without resolution.

And many of the migrants driven to Mexican cities along the US border face daily horrors at the hands of criminal organizations and, in some cases, the same government agencies that Washington relies on to help stop the flow of migrants across the border, according to human rights. group.

Since President Biden took office in January 2021, there have been nearly 13,500 attacks on people who were either deported to Mexico from the United States or blocked from crossing the border, according to a the latest report from Human Rights Firstadvocacy group.

The report said that, in some cases, Mexican officials colluded with criminal organizations to extort migrants.

Mexico's National Migration Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment about the government's treatment of migrants.

“This country is not a safe country,” said Yuri Hurtado, a 26-year-old Colombian migrant, about Mexico.

He left his country in March with his six family members to escape poverty and violence. He spends his days in a migrant shelter near the US border listening to threatening phone messages from members of a criminal group who, Ms. Hurtado, kidnapped his relatives last week as they were riding a bus through Mexico.

The shelter where Ms. Hurtado's residence, Casa Migrante San Juan Diego, is in Matamoros, a northern Mexico city known for violence and across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Hurtado's mother said the criminal group that held her two sisters, a brother-in-law and two nephews, ages 2 and 5, was demanding she pay $4,000 for their release or would start harvesting their organs.

The amount is more than Ms. The Hurtado he could afford. Local police, he said, did not assist him when he tried to file a report, a typical response from authorities, according to migrant rights groups.

“It makes me very afraid of what is happening at the border, however, I am also very afraid that I will die alone at the border,” he said, adding that he hoped his relatives would be released before he tried to cross the border. abut.

Stories like Ms. Hurtado is nothing out of the ordinary; Criminal groups often charge migrants to travel through Mexico and then kidnap them. More than 2,000 migrants kidnapped by criminal organizations last year, the Mexican government said last week.

At the same time, migrants are also vulnerable to becoming victims of Mexican migration authorities.

“The abuses by state officials are systemic in themselves,” said Julia Neusner, a lawyer who co-authored the Human Rights First report. “We hear hundreds and hundreds of stories from people who have suffered direct harm at the hands of officials of this country, including kidnapping, rape, sexual harassment, robbery, extortion.”

When President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in late 2018, he vowed that Mexico would never be used as a cudgel to “do the dirty work” of Washington's migration policies.

Instead, his government is issuing more visas to allow migrants to travel freely to Mexico and towards the US border.

But Mr López Obrador soon found, like other Mexican presidents before him, that it was nearly impossible for Mexico to make its own migration policy.

In June 2019, President Donald J. Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico unless Mr. López Obrador pressured thousands of migrants on Mexican humanitarian visas to go to the United States.

López Obrador acted quickly, deploying thousands of troops to Mexico's northern and southern borders to prevent migrants from entering the country or traveling easily to the United States. Mexico's National Guard, a military police force, is authorized to detain migrants, a power largely concentrated in the hands of migration officers.

“US migration policy has mobilized the Mexican government for law enforcement,” said Ms. Neusner. “That exports our own border enforcement.”

The closure of legal routes in Mexico and to the United States is forcing more migrants into the hands of ruthless smugglers, human rights groups say.

Mexico's closer alignment with the United States in enforcement has also led to a shift in the government's attitude towards migrants, some analysts say.

“The priority is no longer human rights, development and protection, as we started with, but because of pressure from the United States, detention, detention and expulsion are prioritized,” said Tonatiuh Guillén, who is the first commissioner of Mexico's National Agency. The Migration Institute was under Mr López Obrador until he was replaced by the former head of Mexico's federal prison system.

“Placing the armed forces as your primary migration enforcement tool sends a message to migrants, asylum seekers and communities that migrants are a threat and they should be treated as a matter of security, like an invasion,” said Stephanie Brewer, Mexico director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research institute.

“It undermines and weakens protections for their physical security,” he added.

At the Casa Migrante San Juan Diego shelter in Matamoros, half a dozen migrants said this week that they or family members had been kidnapped in recent days. They are afraid to come out of their shelters after dark, afraid of the criminal gangs lurking in the streets.

The shelter's director, Jose Luis Elias Rodriguez, said he and his own employees had been threatened by criminal gangs.

But he promised to continue to help migrants.

“If we leave, who helps the immigrants?” he asked. “Who helps if we go? Who picks it up when we leave? Who will defend them if we go?”

Geysha Espriella Meridith Kohut reporting contribution from Matamoros, Mexico.