EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Police abuse of migrants passing at Mexican detention centers and highway checkpoints is widespread, often systematic and needs to be addressed with changes to the law, an El Paso advocacy group says.
The assertions by the Border Network for Human Rights stem from the results of a first-of-its-kind binational abuse documentation campaign conducted late last year and earlier this year.
Network volunteers interviewing migrants arriving at the border documented more than 200 instances of abuse by Mexican law enforcement against migrants. Violations included verbal and physical violence, prolonged unlawful detention, denial of basic services while incarcerated and disregard for due process.
The survey was done prior to the March 27 fire that claimed the lives of 40 migrants at a detention center in Juarez where guards allegedly were told not to open cell doors even as migrants were trying to kick them open and smoke filled the building.
“What we found is something that is very shocking to us, but that Mexicans probably knew already. Immigration strategies in Mexico are killing people and it’s important for people in the U.S. to know what is happening and pressure Mexico to change that reality,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of BNHR.
What we found is something that is very shocking to us, but that Mexicans probably knew already. Immigration strategies in Mexico are killing people and it’s important for people in the U.S. to know what is happening and pressure Mexico to change that reality.”Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights
More than half the complaints come from migrant interactions with officers of Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM). About a quarter involve National Guard troops manning highway checkpoints and patrolling Mexico’s border with Guatemala in the south and with the United States in the north.
The rest involved various state and local police agencies and the Mexican navy.
One complaint involves a pregnant woman from Haiti who said National Guard troops kicked her in the back at a park where migrants who were part of a caravan crossing the southern state of Chiapas were resting. “The hit me with a stick. They kicked me in the back. […] They also hit my 2-year-old son,” the unidentified woman told BNHR.
Another migrant reported being threatened with death while detained in the northern border city of Reynosa. “An agent with the INM told me, ‘Don’t be (expletive deleted) because I will take care of disappearing you, I will take you in my truck, shoot you and throw you out. After all, it is very common for people to disappear here in Reynosa,’” the migrant told BNHR.
The El Paso group says Indigenous Mexican people who speak little Spanish and are taken for migrants also are suffering abuse and being deprived of due process at checkpoints.
Garcia said BNHR is calling for an unbiased investigation of all the complaints and for public officials that abused their authority to be punished. The group is also calling for the INM to be abolished and for Mexico to turn detention centers where migrant rights are allegedly “systematically and massively” being violated to be turned into welcoming centers where nonprofits are allowed to assist the migrants.
In Juarez, several INM and private security guards are facing criminal charges in connection with the March 27 fatal fire. The retired rear admiral in charge of the INM in Chihuahua is among those arrested after a lawyer for some of the guards accused him of ordering them not to open the cell doors during the fire.
Mexican federal, state and city officials met in Juarez on Tuesday to discuss the migrant crisis but did not announce any imminent policy changes.