An investigation into conditions at Mexico’s immigration detention centers has found that National Immigration Institute (INM) agents threaten, punish and abuse migrants, coerce them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum in Mexico.
The findings were detailed in a report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council called “People in immigration detention in Mexico.”
The INM disputed the most damning aspects of the report, saying it had never received a complaint about a serious violation of human rights and that it treats all migrants with “absolute respect” for them.
But a team from the council that was granted access to 17 detention centers across the country to carry out a “monitoring mission” reported that INM agents used threats, violence and excessive force towards undocumented migrants on numerous occasions.
“Today, you don’t eat,” was one example of punishment threatened against migrants if or when they refused to sign documents for their voluntary deportation, the team found.
The monitoring team also detected cases where INM agents, privately contracted guards and other staff made threats towards migrants who refused voluntary expulsion from the centers, denying them basic medicines and hygiene products.
Migrants interviewed indicated that sometimes the threats were accompanied by physical violence. Death threats were also made, they said.
“I’ve received five death threats from guards and also immigration [officials],” said one man held in a detention center in Mexico City.
“They mistreat us, they humiliate us with insults. And there are times when I am going to consume my meals and the guard tells me that I can’t go into the dining room.”
The monitoring team also heard claims that INM employees attempted to dissuade migrants from exercising their legal right to seek asylum. One Central American woman reported that an official “discouraged” her from starting the process, warning her that she would be locked up in a detention center for a long time while the application was being processed.
“Did you know you have to wait three months [for the process]? . . . Besides, the probability that they say no is high. It’s better that you go back [to your country of origin], because sometimes the process lasts up to six months.”
The Mexican representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jan Jarab, criticized the tactic and said it was “a systemic problem” in the country.
“If they tell migrants not to seek asylum because they’re going to be locked up a long time in detention centers where the conditions are deplorable, then it’s not voluntary departure. It could be called pseudo-voluntary.”
Antiquated practices that violate human rights such as solitary confinement in cells that are small, dark and lack hygiene were also uncovered.
In Tapachula, Chiapas, the monitoring team saw a room that migrants call “the well” or “the dungeon.” One migrant said that if someone complains about the treatment he receives or tries to defend himself from aggression, he is taken to the “well” and assaulted.
Since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November 2016, asylum requests in Mexico have risen more than 150%. More and more Central Americans — especially people fleeing violence in El Salvador and Honduras, where gang wars have made crime levels amongst the highest in the world — are choosing to remain in Mexico rather than risk the journey to the United States.
However, the Citizen’s Council reported that Mexico’s migration policy did little more than detain and deport people rather than offer them protection, describing the situation as only a “simulation” of respect for human rights.
For migrants who do choose to seek asylum, statistics show that their chance of succeeding is low. Between 2011 and 2015, 8,419 asylum applications were made but only 2,145 were approved. In other words, authorities rejected almost eight of every 10 asylum requests.
Referring to that statistic, UN representative Jan Jarab was again critical of Mexico’s immigration policies.
“It’s difficult for Mexico to maintain its credibility criticizing immigration policies of other countries while applying the same policies at home.”
The Citizens’ Council is a 13-member body whose mandate is to act as a watchdog over INM activities.
Source: Animal Político (sp)