Friday, March 1, 2013

Central American transmigrants in Mexico: violation of human rights in Mexico and the US: policy proposals for the United States, Mexico and Central America to promote public policies to support Human Rights of Migrants

Central American transmigrants in Mexico: violation of human rights in Mexico and the US: policy proposals for the United States, Mexico and Central America to promote public policies to support Human Rights of Migrants. (Draft paper not to quote, to be release after presentation at Mazatlan Forum on March 8th 2013. Event organized by  and Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, California

Bernardo Mendez Lugo, member of the Mexican Foreign Service (My views in this paper are personal and do not represent the point of view of the institution where I work).

Thank you very much to El Colegio de Sinaloa and President Jose Angel Pescador Osuna and Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology of Berkeley, California for the invitation to participate in the forum "Crossing Borders Mazatlan Forum 2013" with timely topics, relevant and inspiring to examine the assumptions of political, economic and social conditions in the U.S. and Mexico.

This Forum, organized by academic institutions in the US and Mexico with a broad vision of social and historical realities, allows a genuine discussion to bring the paradigms and assumptions among scholars, officials, stakeholders and entrepreneurs of the two countries on issues of key global interest. We need to approach them according to our regional priorities. I refer to issues of social commitment that have been delivered by Dr. Michael Sweeney, the role of social actors in the contemporary state as they have been discussed by film director and producer Ron Austin and my friend and scholar Roberto Blancarte.

Special mention should have the discussion of youth issues, the search for truth and the role of social networks as noted masterfully by Honorable Agnieszka Winkler and her aims to find new models of authority in an unprecedented environment of virtual reality increasingly influential . It is also worth mentioning the questioning of the figure and content of the family institution and the idea of ​​family and how to define rights, obligations and belonging to contemporary household, the contributions of Dr Anselm Ramelow are relevant to this discussion. And on issues regarding migration issues I should mention discussions by my friend Dr Rodolfo Tuirán, the former U.S. Congressman Dan Lungren, Professor Erika Montoya Zavala and Dr Patrick Brennan, focusing on the state of the art of this matter and how the immigration reform should be completed in the US but the structural changes needed in labor force supply countries such as Mexico and the Central American region.  

No less important are the reflections of my friend and sinaloense countryman, Dr Luis Astorga Almanza, UNAM, whose rigorous work on drug trafficking, state and violence in Mexico I have known since its inception, and it fits together well with the analysis of my work on vulnerability of Central American transmigrants passing through Mexico. Obviously they have the same vulnerability as Mexican migrants trying to cross into the United States as I witnessed while I was Deputy Consul of Mexico in Tucson. In the Arizona-Sonora border region where life risky hazards are present in both states and Sonoran Desert where drug cartels and organized crime have been active for years trying to recruit migrants.

The prevalence and dominance of the paradigm of the market economy involves rethinking many ideological assumptions and public policy in both countries as doctors André Delbeq, my friend Dr. Miguel Breceda, and Dra. Mary Hirshfeld have discussed. This dominant framework and economic reality raises the need  to seek economic models compatible with sustainable and equitable development, which is not easy to harmonize and integrate. It is in this great framework outlined by our colleagues and should be located above my ideas regarding the urgency of a profound reordering of priorities in various aspects of Central American transmigration.

Each year, over 400,000 Central American migrants transit through Mexico,  who are headed for the United States, having as destination in most cases, the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, where are settled down nearly half of Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans living in the United States.

Transmigration is a complex problem because of unfavorable economic conditions and violence in their home countries that expells Central American migrants who come from the three countries mentioned above. When transmigrants are deported from the United States are concentrated in towns of the Mexican border side, this influx of migrants generate demand for services, housing and employment in Mexico, which becomes a heavy financial burden for Mexican border cities.

According to the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) violence creates displacement of villagers in the countries of Central American “Northern Triangle”, consisting of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

In the document entitled "Forced displacement and protection needs for new forms of crime and violence in Central America," prepared by United Nations Agency for Refugees (ACNUR in Spanish) and the International Centre for Human Rights of Migrants (CIDEMUH) analyzes the main causes of displacement in Central America in the XXI Century, including drug trafficking, extortion and harassment of gangs (maras) and other criminal groups operating locally in each of these countries and transnational.

In Central America there is also a constant labor economic migration and the difficulties prevailing seeking better living standards. According to the study, organized crime generates the largest displacement of IDPs, which "is evidenced most strongly in the Northern Triangle countries, as reflected in increasing levels of violence (homicide and crime)"

Organized crime has increased its presence in Central and it is clear the negative effects evidenced by extortion, killings, forced recruitment, strategic control over territories. The above report emphasizes the needs of national and international protection for victims of organized crime.

"In the case of Honduras the figures are very revealing: in 2011 had a homicide rate of 86.5 per 100 thousand inhabitants, is the highest in the world, while in 2012, this rate dropped to just 85.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants "said the study.

Those seeking international protection and recognition as refugees often turn to Canada, USA, Mexico, but also to other Central American countries like Costa Rica and Panama. Not all Central Americans beset by violence in their home countries seek refuge in these countries, many of them begin their journey to the north, particularly to the United States, where family and friends reside and had already been established. Social networks and family guideness help new comers to find work and establish in the U.S. gradually.

Much of the flow can not be accepted as a refugee and good number of Central American migrants transit through Mexico without visa or immigration papers. This situation makes them very vulnerable to criminal organizations of various kinds as smugglers, drug traffickers and others. However, it does not exclude municipal, state and federal officials of Mexico, sometimes they use their power against transmigrants or have complicity with organized crime.
Several studies show that many transmigrants try to pass average a dozen times into U.S. territory. In their journey through Mexico and temporary stay in the border towns of Mexico, they become victims of traffickers and organized crime seeking to recruit migrants to carry back packs with drugs to the US territory.

It should be recognized that Mexico's new Immigration Law enforced since May 2011 and its regulations issued in November 2012, aimed at ensuring the protection of human rights of these transmigrants and their rights to education and health in their passage through Mexico regardless of immigration status. However, some legal experts have indicated that both law and regulations have flaws and gaps that could affect its full implementation by complicated content, breadth and depth that can become a dead letter. (See editorial "Migration: a model kit" IDC's Journal October 31, 2012, p. 2, publication of Grupo Editorial Expansion in Mexico City)

The key policies for solving the problem of transmigration of undocumented workers and their families lies in the capability of generating decent employment options and increased security in their home countries.  A percentage of these transmigrants who have spouses, parents and relatives in the U.S., may benefit from the U.S. immigration reform in process of approval that will allow family reunification, and in these cases, Mexico should promote humanitarian visas to Central American transmigrants that have ample opportunity to regularize their legal status in the U.S..

Although processes have many similarities, transmigration of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans is not the same, and each country has its peculiarities. In the case of El Salvador, Mariana Flores Castillo researcher at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas has written that "in El Salvador, where international labor migration has become a significant phenomenon, the roots of this process can be found in the XIX Century. At that time, workflows were differentiated by social class.

For example, the first migrants who arrived in the Bay Area of ​​San Francisco tended to be the elite of Salvadoran society, while those engaged in migration to coffee crops were peasants. During the sixties and seventies of last century, migration to the United States was formed by a relatively small group of migrants who established the basis of the social networks that would support later for new migrants." Castillo Flores notes that many of these migrants in the United States are now permanent residents or citizens. However, not all the new migrations are given within established legal structures.

In our view, there is a duality in the current migration process: part of the new migrations have previous legal structures but a part of the new stream in the last fifteen years, depends on "coyotes or smugglers"  and not all new Central American migrants have family with legal ties in the U.S. The Bay region of San Francisco includes big cities like San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, along with urban and smaller rural towns. The Bay Area consists of approximately seven thousand square miles, comprised of nine counties and 101 cities. The nine counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma.

Castillo Flores points out that "for the eighties of last century, civil war uprooted thousands of Salvadorans. Many rural areas fled to neighboring Honduras while others sought refuge and anonymity in urban areas. Those who were statistically counted went to the United States in record numbers. The increasing restrictions to enter the United States contributed to the growth of a parallel journey structure required large sums of money paid to “coyotes” or smugglers, the industry currently handles much of undocumented migration to the United States. "

Today is unclear the number of undocumented Salvadorans in the United States, according to figures derived from arrests by the Mexican National Institute of Migration (known by the acronym of INAMI in Spanish) 9.981 Salvadorans were returned to El Salvador, this number is for Salvadorean migrants that  tried to reach the United States between January and December 2009, but these figures are unreliable since they are based on detentions, but not in actual traffic. The table presents the researcher Flores Castillo on postback events / expulsion and repatriation of Mexico as Central American nationality in the period 2004-2009 according to the National Migration Institute of Mexico (INAMI), the year with the highest number of Central American migrants returned from Mexico was 2005 with a total of 226, 205 people. Adding deportations and voluntary repatriations, in 2009 this figure dropped to 61, 525 people returned to their home countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua). Source:

The economic recession in the United States has influenced lower flow of Mexican and Central American migrants to the northern border of Mexico between 2008 and 2012 but there are many reasons and factors to explain the vagaries of migration flows.

The relentless rise in violence in Mexico-both by criminal groups as federal and state authorities-in the period 2007-2012 against Central American migrants, was the main cause of the increase in repatriations of Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans passing through Mexico in those years, in search of ever more distant American dream. "The route has become much more complex than it used to be, so many migrants and desist voluntarily repatriate ask that," he said in an interview with the blog "Desinformémonos" the human rights defender , Martha Sanchez, member of Mesoamerican Migrant Movement.

It should be recalled that in August 2010, 72 mostly Central American migrants, were killed in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The high vulnerability of Central American transmigrants and of any nationality stems from several factors: the vast majority of them traveling without documents, subject to the "coyotes" or "smugglers" who are traffickers and they increasingly have links with crime related to organized drug trafficking and other crimes such as human trafficking. Also we should not minimize the increasing presence of gangs or "maras" in Central Mexico and Mexican territory.

In a word, the vulnerability of Central American migrants is not just about violence by some Mexican authorities, but a complex web of organized crime, which does not exclude the complicity of trafficking networks and crime branches established in the United States, integrating gangsters, smugglers, drug dealers and prostitution rings for women and children.

Recommendations done on December 2006 by Professor Rodolfo Casillas in his essay on Central Transmigration also remain valid diagnosis: "The knowledge of immigration from the south is still very limited knowledge in Mexico. More limited is the critical mass of expertise on transmigrants in Mexico since these flows are highly effective and will remain part of the national agenda, we recommend:

"Encouraging and sponsoring specialized studies on various immigration flows from Central and South America. Extending the conceptual framework and categorization in order to have a wide spectrum of causes and motivations of migration.  Mexico has to change the view that the transmigrants are a risk, for the simple fact of being, we need to put in question the idea that trasnmigration represents a danger to national security. New views and paradigms are needed in the conceptual and operational precision of national security in the specific terms of international migration in Mexico and its relationship to the national security system. The National Migration Institute of Mexico needs to renovate strategy and patterns of action towards transmigrants. As Professor Rodolfo Casillas writes, we agree with his proposals and recommendations:

- Promote the participation of government agencies engaged in social, economic and cultural policies, labor training, education and health providers, especially in the design and implementation of programs serving immigrants and transmigrants in Mexico. Their current involvement is minimal and intermittent or non-existent. This desirable participation could counteract excessive and unnecessary actions of law enforcement bodies and the police approach that has been imposed on the treatment of immigrants and undocumented transmigrants, somehow, replicating some of the US traditional policies of Immigration enforcement.

- While international migration issues is a federal responsibility, efforts have to be done at the state and local in order to coordinate a consistent national policy. So far, this coordination occurs almost exclusively with public safety, consistent with the previous point, it is not enough and not always relevant.

-The Mexican government has signed and ratified international conventions protecting migrants and their families, of their human rights and their relationship with the desirable development of nations. However, such efforts are required to strengthen the effect that these international commitments become daily practice in a comprehensive national plan and to enact public policies based in the overview of the problem as   social phenomena.

It should be noted that the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto has proposed a new strategy to struggle organized crime, which gives a 360 degrees turn out from that applied in the past six years by former President Calderón. The new governmental program includes objectives outlined that follows the axis of the strategy that will put emphasis on social prevention, although this does not annul “de facto” coercitive ways to attack crime, which, most likely, will join the actions of Mexican civil society and citizens non government organizations  .

In our view, It is not just a change of strategy against crime is to rethink the development model, to address the needs of out-migration areas and substantially improve the living conditions of farmers, indigenous people and urban poor. A timely response would have been generated in this forum and both El Colegio de Sinaloa and the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology of Berkeley, as well as all participants have a great task ahead, to enforce the support of young people and civil society proposals, that have been defined in this Foro de Mazatlan.

Appendix: on Central American migration process irregular transit through the territory of Mexico in the last 20 years. Source:

The purpose of reaching the United States worsened since the mid-eighties, as a result of the intensification of armed conflict in Central America. The continued increase in these flows in the nineties and later with variations up to a record high in 2005, despite having signed peace agreements and end the civil war in El Salvador and Guatemala in 1992 and 1996, respectively.
• The volume of transit migration irregular Central Mexico to the United States can be estimated indirectly by the sum of three groups: (a) held by Mexican immigration authorities (50-55%), (b) the retained by U.S. immigration authorities along the border with Mexico (25-30%), and (c) those who managed to enter and reside in the United States after having illegally crossed the Mexican territory (15-20%).

• The Central American migration to Mexico irregular traffic shows an increasing trend from 1995 to 2005. Since 2006 the trend changed to the downside, and there is a reduction of about 70% in the period 2005-2010, from 433,000 to 140,000 events in both years. It refers to events because a person may travel to Mexico for the United States in more than once during the same year. During 2009 and 2010 the flows appear to be stabilizing.

• The interaction of various factors explain the tendency of these flows in recent years, ie, would not have the same effect if presented at different times. Prominent among these, and slowing U.S. economic crisis and the increased immigration enforcement by the country on its southern border and within its territory, considering that Mexico's strategy of retaining these flows throughout the country, has not changed substantially. By February 20th 2013, Mexico´s srategy regarding Central American migrants has not changed

• Other factors that have gained importance in the last two years and drive the downward trend is the growing insecurity in Mexico, particularly in the north and the more vulnerable they are exposed migrants to violence against by organized crime during their transit through Mexico, a situation that includes extortion, kidnapping and even murder. While these factors are affecting the reduction of irregular migration flows, international experience shows that while there are inconsistencies between migration policies and labor markets, this migration will continue to exist and will be higher risks and costs these migrants.

• Both groups, migrants held by Mexico and the U.S., show a similar trend over the whole period (1995-2010), although the magnitudes are different and tend to converge in recent years.

• Between 1995 and 2004, Mexico made six arrests for each of those made by the United States, for the period 2005-2008 the ratio was two to one, and for the period 2009-2010 was 1.5.

• While nationals of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, are between 92 and 95% of all inmates in the detention facilities of the INM between 2006 and 2010 as mentioned above, according to U.S. records, the Central Americans accounted these years for 89% of total non-Mexican illegal immigrants detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in the area of ​​the border with Mexico and only 7% of the total, to include Mexican migrants are the large volume of migration irregular in that border.

• This tells us that in addition to the irregular transit migration through Central Mexico to the United States, there are also migrants from other countries well below that similarly use Mexico as a transit territory to try to reach the United States, they may have arrived irregularly or documented in the country. This group is not the subject of this analysis.

1 See Cornelius Wayne A. (2007). "A decade experimenting with a policy of. Control of unwanted immigration "Enriqueta Cabrera (ed.) Challenges of Migration. Balances of the US-Mexico relationship. Mexico: Ed Planeta. pp. 251-282, and Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand, Nolan J. Malone (2009). Behind the frame migration policies between Mexico and the United States. Mexico: Ed H. Chamber of Deputies, LX Legislature, Autonomous University of Zacatecas and Editorial Porrúa. pg. 145-153