Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Human rights commision: abuse, torture at migrant detention centers

Torture, sexual assault and extortion are some of the abuses migrants have allegedly suffered while detained at government detention centers since Francisco Garduño became Mexico’s immigration chief. 

The conditions endured by migrants at National Immigration Institute (INM) facilities are currently in the spotlight in the wake of a fire at a provisional detention center in Ciudad Juárez last month that claimed the lives of 40 men from Central and South America.

Deadly fire at migrant detention center in Juarez, Mexico
The fire at a provisional detention center left 40 migrants dead (Juan Ortega Solís/Cuartoscuro).

Garduño, INM’s director, is the subject of a criminal investigation in view of his alleged failure to fulfill his duty to supervise and protect the people and facilities under his control. 

Since Garduño succeeded Tonatiuh Guillén in June 2019, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has published 54 reports detailing abuses allegedly committed by immigration officials and private security personnel at migrant detention centers. 

Guillén, who served as INM director for seven months at the start of the current government, didn’t receive any damning reports from the CNDH, while Ardelio Vargas Fosado and Gerardo García Benavente, immigration chiefs who served under former president Enrique Peña Nieto, received 20 and three, respectively. 

The newspaper El Universal, which reviewed the CNDH’s reports, reported that abuses at detention centers were committed against both detained migrants and their family members. 

Mexico's INM director Francisco Garduño
The fate of INM director Francisco Garduño is uncertain after migrants were left inside a burning INM facility (Gob MX).

In a report published in February, the newspaper noted, the CNDH detailed the case of a migrant from El Salvador who was said to have been handcuffed to a bunk bed for five days at an INM detention center in Guadalupe, Nuevo León, as punishment for starting a hunger strike due to poor conditions at the facility.  

In 2019, the CNDH documented the case of a 17-year-old migrant who was alleged to have been tortured by INM personnel at a detention center in Tlaxcala. Medical examinations confirmed that the minor suffered injuries and psychological harm consistent with torture, the commission said. 

In another 2019 report, the CNDH described the conditions in INM detention centers as prisonlike. The INM detention center model “doesn’t guarantee full respect” for migrants’ “dignity” and human rights, the report said. 

Migrants are kept in locked cells and subjected to prison-style routines that violate their human rights, the commission said. 

Guillén promised a kinder approach to immigration. Today, he resigned.
Former director of the National Migration Institute Tonatiuh Guillén supported a kinder approach to immigration. Under Guillen’s direction, there were no human rights abuses reported at migrant detention centers (Photo: Archive).

Guillén, who resigned in 2019 shortly after the Mexican government reached an agreement with the United States to ramp up enforcement against undocumented migrants, told El Universal that violations of migrants’ rights have become more frequent, a situation he said is indicative of the “hardening” of Mexico’s immigration policy. 

Mexico has come under pressure from the United States to do more to stop the flow of migrants to its northern border and has deployed both INM agents and members of the National Guard to detain migrants, many of whom are deported after spending time in a provisional detention center.  

The treatment of migrants at detention centers is disrespectful, irresponsible and lacking in care, Guillén asserted, adding that the prevailing situation can have “extremely serious consequences such as those we recently saw in Ciudad Juárez.”    

Eunice Rendón, head of the migrants’ advocacy group Agenda Migrante, said that it is “very important” that the INM review the reports published by the CNDH and implement the recommendations it has made. 

“What’s the use of recommendations if the vast majority have been ignored by the INM?” Rendón asked.

Along with the National Migration Institute, the National Guard has come under attack for its violent treatment of migrants in southern Mexico (Damián Sánchez/Cuartoscuro).

In addition to abuses such as torture and physical and sexual assault, migrants detained at INM facilities are forced to endure crowded and inhumane living conditions, according to an umbrella organization called Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Mexicano (Human Rights Observation and Monitoring Collective in the Mexican Southeast). 

According to the news website Pie de Página, the collective attests that most detention centers have no running water and that migrants are often held in sections exposed to the elements.    

Food served to migrants is often spoiled, according to the collective. One of their reports says that private security personnel working at detention centers use “threatening and abusive language” toward migrants and don’t allow them to contact people on the outside, presumably by confiscating their telephones.     

The collective also documented a disturbing episode in 2021 at the Siglo XXI detention center in Tapachula, a city in Chiapas just north of the border with Guatemala.

Representatives of the collective spoke with migrants who said that INM agents and private security guards forced them to lie on their backs in a patio with their hands on their necks for 10 hours between 2 p.m. and midnight. They were exposed to sun and rain and warned they would be beaten if they closed their eyes, the collective said. 

Following the Ciudad Juárez tragedy, protesters spoke out against the conditions inside provisional detention center Siglo XXI in Tapachula, Chiapas (Damián Sánchez/Cuartoscuro).

The newspaper Milenio spoke this week with migrants currently being held or who have spent time in INM detention centers in different parts of the country, and they, too, offered a damning assessment of the conditions and treatment they experienced.  

A Cuban man who has spent a month in the Siglo XXI detention center told Milenio that migrants eat and sleep among buckets filled with urine and feces. 

“Despicable conditions — we’re sleeping between shit, there is no medical care, everyone is sick with colds,” said the migrant who was only identified as Manuel. 

“… They don’t let us speak with anyone, they don’t let lawyers visit us, they don’t give us any news [about our immigration status],” he said. 

África, a Colombian woman who spent time in a detention center in Acayucan, Veracruz, told Milenio that she and other detainees were unable to shower when they had access to the bathroom because there was no water. A Venezuelan woman said that the “psychological damage” from being locked up without knowing when she would be released was enormous. 

The offices of the INM in Mexico City
The INM prioritized the protection of property over the safety of migrants, according to a contract with the agency and a private security company hired to provide guard services at the Ciudad Juárez facility. (Daniel Augusto/Cuartoscuro).

Despite the scenarios described and the tragedy in Ciudad Juárez, President López Obrador said earlier this week that Garduño’s performance as immigration chief has generally been good. 

He remains INM’s director even as the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) prepares to charge him with improper exercise of public service. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the FGR noted that both the CNDH and the Federal Auditor’s Office have identified shortcomings and an unrectified “pattern of irresponsibility” at the INM that caused “regrettable events” such as the March 27 fire. 

At the Ciudad Juárez detention center, security guards were told to protect property but not detainees in an emergency, according to a contract awarded to the security company Camsa. 

One security guard, three INM agents and a Venezuelan migrant have been detained in connection with the fire and face charges of homicide and causing injury. 

Garduño and other INM officials, including the agency’s chief in Chihuahua, face a court hearing before a federal judge next week at which they will be formally charged.  

With reports from El Universal, Pie de Página and Milenio


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