As Mexico Tightens Southern Border, Migrants Confront New Threats

Whitney Eulich and Tomas Ayuso, Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 2015

When Walter migrated from coastal Honduras to the United States six years ago, the trip was “uneventful,” he says.

He rode a bus across Guatemala, hopped freight trains most of the way through Mexico, and crossed into the United States, where for years he supported his extended family back home through construction work.

To be sure, the journey wasn’t safe or easy. But after returning to Honduras to tend to a family emergency, Walter realized a lot had changed on the migratory path.

“I was robbed, I was beat up. Someone pointed a gun at me and shot, but thank God, it didn’t go off,” he says by telephone from Honduras, where he’s struggled to find work. Walter has tried returning to the US three times this year–and he’s been deported each time, he says.

Last summer, as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fled their homes in Central America and headed toward the US, Mexico launched Plan Frontera Sur–in part, it says, to help reduce human rights violations against migrants crossing the 750-mile border with Guatemala and Belize, as well as to build a more systematized patrol system.

A year later, deportations and detentions on Mexico’s southern border have risen sharply: Mexico apprehended 92,889 Central American migrants between October 2014 and April 2015. That’s nearly double the 49,893 apprehended during the same period the year prior.

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“Central American migrants are still coming, but they are more invisible now, even to shelters,” says Jose Knippen, who researches human rights and migration for Fundar, a Mexico-City based think tank. She found that some shelters along the train routes are seeing fewer migrants this year, as Plan Frontera Sur cracks down on “The Beast,” the freight trains that have carried migrants north for decades.

“Before, there were high risks to traveling on the trains, and gangs would extort migrants to ride,” Ms. Knippen says. But at least it was visible.

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According to public record requests by the Mexican online newspaper Animal Politico at prosecutors’ offices in four southern states, reports of robberies against migrants went up by 81 percent this year. In the state of Oaxaca, robberies and assaults nearly doubled.

And deportations are happening so rapidly that many question whether migrants have the chance to ask for asylum or protection, or report criminal or police abuses.

“The message the government is sending with detaining and deporting migrants quickly is that the migrants aren’t the priority of this policy,” Knippen says. “Nothing will happen to you if you steal from a migrant because they will be deported anyway.”

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