Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, North America

Mexico, Journey of Terror for Central American Migrants

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Apr 28 2010 (IPS) - “The fifth time I tried to get to the United States I left Guatemala, crossed the border into Mexico, and on a bus I was assaulted by five police officers,” Guatemalan migrant José Donis said Wednesday.

The story of Donis, who since 2008 has worked in a shelter for Central American migrants in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca and has tried without luck to reach the United States to be reunited with his father, is a common one among the undocumented migrants who make their way across this country while heading for the U.S.

The report “Invisible Victims; Migrants on the Move in Mexico” released by Amnesty International Wednesday, documents abuses, assaults and even killings of migrants in Mexico, based on interviews with victims, authorities and human rights defenders.

“It’s an appalling panorama,” Rupert Knox, a researcher at Amnesty International, said at the Mexico City release of the report. “Migrants face possible kidnapping, extortion, arbitrary detention and attacks by the authorities, during a journey of terror,” the British co-author of the report added.

Kidnappings of undocumented migrants are increasingly common in southeast Mexico. From September 2008 to February 2009, 9,758 kidnappings of migrants were reported in Mexico, according to a special report by the governmental National Human Rights Commission (CNDH).

“Irregular migrants are at serious risk of widespread abuses in Mexico. Marginalised from mainstream Mexican society, irregular migrants remain largely invisible, their voices rarely heard. Experience has taught them not to trust anyone, particularly the authorities,” the Amnesty report says.

The release of the report coincided with a heated debate on a new immigration law — SB (Senate Bill) 1070 — in the southwestern U.S. state of Arizona, on the border with Mexico, which criminalises all undocumented immigrants as “trespassers” and allows police to question and arrest them without a warrant, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion” of illegal immigrant status.

Mexico has complained loudly about the law, with the foreign ministry even posting a travel alert for “all Mexicans visiting, living, or studying in the state of Arizona.”

But the innumerable abuses against undocumented Central American migrants in Mexico receive much less attention.

Mexican immigrant Rubén Figueroa remembers many stories. He lived without legal documents in the southeast U.S. state of North Carolina from 1999 to 2005, where he worked in factories and as a gardener.

“Having experienced the rage, pain and humiliation made it possible for me to understand the situation faced by the migrants,” he told IPS.

Norma was assaulted and raped, while Johny’s knee was smashed when immigration agents threw him off a train. Only Selvin made it and is now living in the southeast U.S. state of Virginia, where he works in a store. All three were from Honduras, a major source of immigrants to the U.S.

Figueroa and his mother help migrants passing through the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco on their train journey to the north, by giving them food and water.

“We see a double tragedy here, because we take in those who were already kidnapped and those who will not be able to cross the border, because it’s totally controlled by criminal gangs,” Pedro Pantoja, a Jesuit priest who runs the Belen migrants shelter linked to the Catholic Church in Saltillo, a city north of the capital, told IPS.

Along with other activists, Pantoja travelled to Washington in March to attend a hearing on the kidnapping of migrants during the 138th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

They asked the IACHR for support for their humanitarian work and for precautionary measures in the face of threats received from people traffickers and kidnappers. The IACHR backed their requests and announced that it would soon make a visit to the shelter in Saltillo, which provides assistance to some 100 undocumented migrants a day.

According to the CNDH report, the ransom payments demanded from the victims’ families in the United States or their countries of origin range from 1,500 to 5,000 dollars, making kidnapping a lucrative business for criminal groups.

The Amnesty report says “The federal and state authorities have consistently failed to investigate abuses against migrants promptly and effectively. The lack of access to protection and justice means that all but a few migrants simply continue their journey or are deported or repatriated without filing legal complaints.”

Donis, 24, did file a lawsuit, but no one has ever been arrested.

“How can it be possible that after all the abuses that have been reported, the authorities don’t do anything?” Donis asked in a plaintive tone.

The Mexican Congress is debating draft laws on migration and against kidnapping, which would crack down on officials and gangs involved in kidnappings.

But Knox said “I don’t see how these laws would have an impact, because the problem lies in how the cases are investigated.”

The government of the southern state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, created a special prosecutors’ office for migrants that tackles crimes like kidnapping. A large proportion of the kidnappings take place in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Among its recommendations, Amnesty suggested legal reforms to ensure that undocumented migrants can “report and/or file legal complaints for abuses suffered or witnessed, without fear of immediate deportation or repatriation,” access to medical and psychological services for migrants who suffer abuses, and the coordination of measures with the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the starting-point of most migrants who set out across Mexico for the United States.

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