Activists Blast Mexico’s Immigration Law

Chris Hawley, USA Today, May 25, 2010

Arizona’s new law forcing local police to take a greater role in enforcing immigration law has caused a lot of criticism from Mexico, the largest single source of illegal immigrants in the United States.

But in Mexico, illegal immigrants receive terrible treatment from corrupt Mexican authorities, say people involved in the system.

And Mexico has a law that is no different from Arizona’s that empowers local police to check the immigration documents of people suspected of not being in the country legally.

“There (in the United States), they’ll deport you,” Hector Vázquez, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, said as he rested in a makeshift camp with other migrants under a highway bridge in Tultitlán. “In Mexico they’ll probably let you go, but they’ll beat you up and steal everything you’ve got first.”

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said the law [Arizona’s SB1070] “violates inalienable human rights” and Democrats in Congress applauded Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s criticisms of the law in a speech he gave on Capitol Hill last week.

Yet Mexico’s Arizona-style law requires local police to check IDs. And Mexican police freely engage in racial profiling and routinely harass Central American migrants, say immigration activists.

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In one six-month period from September 2008 through February 2009, at least 9,758 migrants were kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico–91 of them with the direct participation of Mexican police, a report by the National Human Rights Commission said. Other migrants are routinely stopped and shaken down for bribes, it said.

A separate survey conducted during one month in 2008 at 10 migrant shelters showed Mexican authorities were behind migrant attacks in 35 of 240 cases, or 15%.

Most migrants in Mexico are Central Americans who are simply passing through on their way to the United States, human rights groups say. Others are Guatemalans who live and work along Mexico’s southern border, mainly as farm workers, as maids, or in bars and restaurants.

The Central American migrants headed to the United States travel mainly on freight trains, stopping to rest and beg for food at rail crossings like the one in Tultitlán, an industrial suburb of Mexico City.

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Mexican law calls for six to 12 years of prison and up to $46,000 in fines for anyone who shelters or transports illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the law applies only to people who do it for money.

For years, the Mexican government has allowed charity groups to openly operate migrant shelters, where travelers can rest for a few days on their journey north. The government also has a special unit of immigration agents, known as Grupo Beta, who patrol the countryside in orange pickups, helping immigrants who are in trouble.

At the same time, Article 67 of Mexico’s immigration law requires that all authorities “whether federal, local or municipal” demand to see visas if approached by a foreigner and to hand over migrants to immigration authorities.

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A bill passed by the Mexican Senate on Oct. 6 would eliminate the ID requirement in Article 67 and replace it with language saying “No attention in matters of human rights or the provision of justice shall be denied or restricted on any level (of government) to foreigners who require it, regardless of their migration status.”

The Mexican House of Representatives approved a similar measure on March 16, but added a clause requiring the government to set aside funds to take care of foreigners during times of disaster. The revised bill has been stuck in the Senate’s Population and Development Committee since then.

To discourage migrants from speaking out about abuse, Mexican authorities often tell detainees they will have to stay longer in detention centers if they file a complaint, Vertíz said.

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