This week, the Department of Homeland Security released two memos outlining how it’ll support President Donald Trump’s vision for immigration enforcement. From expediting the deportation process in more cases to hiring 10,000 new immigration agents, DHS is preparing to ramp up its efforts. While the two documents provide a lot of cause for concern, what likely most struck Mexican officials (and sounded like an Onion article) was DHS’s plan to deport immigrants who crossed the border back to Mexico – even if they aren’t from Mexico – to await hearings.
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The memos came a day before Secretary of the State Rex Tillerson and Head of Homeland Security John Kelly arrived in Mexico for a two-day visit – possibly making the two countries’ already shaky relationship increasingly tense. Without the Mexican government’s cooperation, the DHS’ deportation strategy hits a roadblock, and on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said this was a nonstarter for Mexico.
“I want to make clear, in the most emphatic way, that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept measures that, in a unilateral way, one government wants to impose on another,” he said, adding that he’d go to the United Nations to defend his country’s rights, USA Today reports. “We are not going to accept it because we don’t have to accept it and because it is not in the interests of Mexico.”
According to New York Magazine, ahead of their meeting with US envoys, Mexican officials scrambled to learn more about the DHS memos. The Department of Homeland Security said the timing of the memo and the visit weren’t meant to send any additional message. “The release of the implementation guidance was not at all tied to the secretary’s trip to Mexico,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said. “However, the secretary looks forward to a strong partnership with the Mexican government and to reaffirming that partnership this week.”
However, the exact same thing happened about a month ago when Trump signed executive orders to begin construction on a wall between the United States and Mexico. The news broke the night before Mexican officials Luis Videgaray visited the White House on January 25. They hoped to foster positive relations between the two nations, but instead, the orders blindsided them. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a subsequent meeting with Trump scheduled for January 31.
As acrimonious US-Mexico relations take center stage, Mexicans hope their government takes a stand against the United States. They want their government to fight back, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a column on Reforma titled “Wake Up,” Carmen Aristegui suggested that Mexican officials refuse to negotiate with the US until the border wall is off the table.
As the two giants battle it out, it’s Central Americans who stand to become collateral damage. As more Central Americans arrive at the border fleeing gang violence, it’s only children who will have the right to a hearing. But their parents won’t receive the same treatment. Instead, the government may prosecute or deport them.
Though, as the New York Times notes, the US only plans to send Central American refugees to Mexico in limited numbers, DHS’ proposition ignores the fact that for Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans, Mexico brings additional dangers. Fleeing gangs and poverty, Central Americans passing through Mexico to reach the United States, are typically subjected to more violence – from both the government and cartels.
Lulu Sánchez, her pregnant 15-year-old daughter, 8-year-old son and two adult men left their home in La Ceiba to head to Mexico. At the Mexico-Guatemala border, they boarded a bus bound for Tenosique, Tabasco. Eventually, the driver forced them off – claiming they hadn’t paid enough fare to continue their journey. The family and the two men proceeded to walk on foot in the dark for three hours, until a group of men – who claimed to belong to the Zetas – kidnapped them. They raped the two women, punched the 8-year-old boy in the face, and took their phones so they could call their relatives demanding ransoms in exchange for their safety. The cartel members released the two men who went directly to the police. However, according to The Guardian, the police did nothing to find the kidnapped family.
Eventually – after a family member wired $300 to a Mexican bank account – Lulu and her children were released, and they sought refuge at La72, a migrant shelter. As they dealt with the trauma, one of the kidnappers came to look for them at the shelter, a safe space.
While this family’s case is on the extreme side, it isn’t unique. As vulnerable Central Americans try to reach the United States, cartel members have profited by kidnapping them. A study conducted by Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights found that between 2008 and 2009, 1,600 migrants were kidnapped. It’s believed that the number’s only increased since then.
The Mexican and US governments are complicit in the violence against Central Americans in more ways than one. Last year, Mexico deported more than 140,000 Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans – or twice as much as the US deported. The United States has earmarked $100 million in funding to block Central Americans from reaching the US. The Instituto Nacional de Migración, according to The Guardian, says it’s never seen any of the US’ money.
Regardless, the Mexican government has ramped up its efforts to detain Central Americans that it’s led to dangerous profiling against their own people. Take the Juárez siblings: Amy, 24; Esther, 15; and Alberto, 18. About two years ago, they boarded a bus from Chiapas, their home town, to the other end of Mexico. Half way through their trip, immigration agents asked to check all passengers’ papers. Even though they supplied documents proving their Mexican nationality, the agents accused them of forgery. They detained them and physically hurt Alberto. And because they spoke the Mayan language Tzetzal, officials were able to coerce Alberto into claiming he was from Guatemala. The Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) and other activist groups pushed for the release of the siblings, who now refuse to leave Chiapas.
“The order appears to be to detain Central Americans at any cost, even if that means violating the constitution, picking up people based on racist criteria and detaining and deporting Mexican indigenous youth along the way,” said Gretchen Kuhener, director of the IMUMI. “This case demonstrates the power and impunity of the National Migration Institute. They can get away with it because it impacts highly vulnerable populations who may not speak Spanish, don’t know their rights, and are unlikely to complain.”