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

MIGRATION-MEXICO: Crisis Sparked by Massacre Spurs Demands for In-depth Changes

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Sep 16 2010 (IPS) - Organisations working for the rights of undocumented immigrants are using the crisis triggered by the massacre of 72 migrants a few weeks ago near the U.S. border to press for in-depth changes in Mexico.

“The migration authorities do not have a human rights perspective, and their position is inconsistent with the reality of migration in this country,” Diana Martínez, assistant coordinator of advocacy at Sin Fronteras, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes the rights of migrants and provides them with legal advice, told IPS.

The killing of the undocumented migrants from several Latin American countries, whose bound, blindfolded bodies were found Aug. 24 on a remote ranch in San Fernando, in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, unleashed the worst ever migration-related crisis in this country.

The mass murder, which was survived by at least one man from Ecuador, one from Honduras and one from El Salvador, brought down National Migration Institute (INM) Commissioner Cecilia Romero, who resigned Tuesday Sept. 14.

Romero, a former senator for the governing National Action Party (PAN), had ridden out earlier rumours that she would leave the top job at the INM, which she held since December 2006. But the heat and pressure generated by the shocking event made her position untenable.

Like her predecessors, Romero had little success in reducing corruption within the INM related to trafficking of undocumented migrants en route to the United States, or in combating the abuses they suffer at the hands of migration officials, the police, youth gangs and organised crime groups on their way north.

Tuesday’s decision was a kind of olive branch stretched out by the government of Felipe Calderón to placate Presidents Álvaro Colom of Guatemala, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, who have visited Mexico in the past week demanding explanations as well as actions to safeguard citizens of their countries.

At least 31 of the victims have been identified, including 12 Salvadorans, four Guatemalans and one Brazilian.

Rubén Figueroa, a human rights activist who runs a shelter for migrants in Huimanguillo, in the southeastern state of Tabasco, told IPS “Romero’s exit is a victory for defenders of migrant rights.”

An estimated 500,000 Latin Americans a year cross Mexico heading for the United States, according to experts and NGOs. Along the way they face arbitrary arrest, extortion, robbery, rape and kidnapping, especially at the hands of Los Zetas, a criminal organisation that dominates the kidnapping of undocumented migrants racket.

“The Mexican state must design a truly comprehensive state policy on migration that is not limited to managing migratory flows, but is centrally focused on the human rights of migrants,” said Martínez of Sin Fronteras.

Congress has already approved reforms to the 1974 General Law on Population, under which migrants may report abuses and have access to the justice system, no matter what their legal status. Entering the country without proper papers and extending aid to undocumented migrants are no longer crimes.

The government is also drafting a migration bill to replace the General Law on Population.

The new law would create a system for the protection of the rights of migrants, make migrant trafficking a specific crime, and create penalties for people who employ undocumented migrants, along the lines of similar laws in the United States. It would also allow victims or witnesses of crimes to legally remain in the country.

Migrant protection organisations have urged the Mexican state to issue an official invitation to Felipe González, rapporteur on the rights of migrant workers and their families for the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), part of the Organisation of American States (OAS) human rights system.

In his March 2009 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge Bustamante, recommended legislative reforms to combat the impunity surrounding human rights abuses in this country.

He also suggested the government issue annual reports on the number of arrests and convictions of perpetrators of human rights violations. Bustamante’s official visit to Mexico took place in March 2008.

The Tamaulipas massacre is on the agenda of the 15th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which opened Monday Sept. 13 in Geneva, Switzerland and closes Oct. 1. Mexican NGOs hope the Council will pronounce itself on the issue in its conclusions.

“If Mexico embarks on migration reform, it could set an example in the context of what is happening in the United States,” Fernando García, head of the Border Network for Human Rights, founded in 1998 to advocate for the rights of communities living along the Mexican-U.S. border, told IPS.

The over 12 million undocumented Latin Americans living in the United States, half of whom are of Mexican origin, have waited years for a migration reform that would grant them legal status in the U.S., but each year their hopes fade a little more.

“Now is the time for fundamental changes, and for migrants’ rights to be respected,” Figueroa said.

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