A New Line of Defense: Trends at Mexico’s Southern Border

By Dennis Stinchcomb

The boat to Mexico.  Photo Credit: einalem / Flickr / Creative Commons

The boat to Mexico. Photo Credit: einalem / Flickr / Creative Commons

Statistics show that the United States is relying on Mexico to do what U.S. immigration law and the Northern Triangle countries can’t: keep Central American children out of the U.S.  In 2014, the same year in which Mexico announced tightened security measures along its southern border with Guatemala and Belize, Mexican authorities deported over 18,000 children, up 117 percent from just over 8,000 the previous year, according to Mexican government figures.  A similar increase is already being registered in 2015.  During January and February of this year, deportations of minors from Mexican soil tallied over 3,200 – a 105 percent jump from the same period in 2014.  Since launching what U.S. officials have dubbed a “layered approach” to immigration enforcement, data reveal several noteworthy trends:

  • Mexico’s get-tough approach has prevented a significant number of migrants from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the first seven months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 witnessed a 48-percent decrease in unaccompanied child apprehensions and a 35-percent decrease in family unit apprehensions along the U.S. border.  However, considered in light of the unprecedented number of deportations from Mexico, these figures suggest that child and family migration from Central America remain at historic highs. 
  • Central American children detained in Mexico are unlikely to be offered forms of humanitarian protection mandated by international law. Despite increases in child detention and deportation, a report by Georgetown University Law School’s Human Rights Institute points to inadequate screening and arbitrary detention as among the obstacles preventing tens of thousands of children from seeking and receiving relief from removal.
  • Both Mexican and U.S. data show that a growing share of child and family migrants are Guatemalan. According to analysis by the Pew Research Center, the number of Guatemalan children deported from Mexico during the first five months of FY15 doubled since the same period last year and now accounts for 60 percent of all child deportations from the country.  Meanwhile, the share of child deportees from Honduras dropped from roughly one-third to less than one-quarter, and those from El Salvador fell off slightly to just above 15 percent.  An analogous shift is also evident at the U.S.-Mexico border where Guatemalans now comprise 35 percent of unaccompanied child apprehensions compared to 25 percent during FY14.  Similarly, the proportion of Salvadoran and Honduran children has declined from roughly 25 percent each to 18 and 9 percent, respectively.
  • Smugglers and migrants are already adapting to heightened enforcement in Mexico and charting new, more dangerous routes north. Local media reports have covered migrants’ attempts to bypass border checkpoints by sea and traverse Mexico undetected on foot or in third-class buses.  Data show that successful migrants are crossing into the U.S. at less traditional and harder-to-access points.  At the height of last year’s crisis, the majority of migrants were surrendering themselves to border officials in the Rio Grande Valley along Texas’ southern-most border.  While apprehension in the Rio Grande control sector have decreased significantly this year, three sectors – Big Bend (Texas), El Paso (Texas and New Mexico), and Yuma (California) – have registered at least double-digit percent increases in both child and family apprehensions.

During Mexican President Peña Nieto’s recent visit to Washington, President Obama stated that he “very much appreciate[d] Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children [crisis].”  Despite applause from the White House, Mexico’s aggressive border enforcement – driven at least in part by U.S. encouragement and funding – has implications for Mexico’s already problematic human rights record.  While it is true that Mexico’s actions have largely staved off a repeat of last year’s crisis, it has yet to translate into the sort of political bargaining chip the Obama administration has hoped might sway the immigration policy debate in the U.S.  With comprehensive immigration reform legislation long dead and recent executive actions on indefinite hold, the administration apparently hopes that ramped-up enforcement will improve prospects for congressional approval of $1 billion in development assistance to the Northern Triangle.  But with Mexico’s clampdown blocking another surge of migrants into the U.S., many legislators are likely to question the prudence of pouring more money into corrupt, dysfunctional regional governments.  By backing the militarization of Mexico’s southern border, moreover, the administration is privileging political goals at the expense of humanitarian objectives and is indirectly complicit in blocking thousands of Central American children from accessing lawful forms of relief for which most are likely eligible.  Meanwhile, Mexico’s migrant extortion market continues to boom as vulnerable children and families seek new routes north at the mercy of increasingly brutal transnational networks.

June 4, 2015

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  1. How about the fact that children and families are being returned to violence-dominated communities where their lives are in danger?

    • Eric Hershberg

       /  June 5, 2015

      I gather that this is precisely the point of Dennis’ reference to legal relief to which these migrants may be entitled and the observation that by supporting Mexico’s policy of indiscriminate deportation the U.S. is complicit in ignoring humanitarian concerns (paragraph 3). Readers of the blog will be familiar with a detailed CLALS study that he and I published last year that establishes both that many of these children and families have demonstrable reasons to fear for their safety and that, as a result, when given opportunities to present their case in immigration proceedings, will often be eligible for relief.

  2. The new US world dominance strategy proposes to build an North American economic block/region that will Mexico into become a partner with OPEN borders policies for Mexican nationals. On the other hand this model demands that Mexico allows for US to dictate mexican inmigration policies of their southern border with CentralAmerica!!. The USA knows that the flow of centralamericans through Mexico in their way to the USA will never stop. Hence the US/Nafta migration policies seek to box in centralamericans migrants into the new SEMI SLAVE labor force for the large agroexporting agricultural Mexican feudal states, and also to ensure a slave/indenture workers for the large manufactuirn/service/low skill jobs in Mexico, and the US. Therefore Centralamericans will substitute Mexicans as the new exploited low skill,lo wage laborers. The consequences of this Nafta model are already tangible the economic costs of migrating(legally and illegaly) through Mexico have multiplied exponentially from an average of $3K,$5K, to about $10,000 per head today. The human costs are even darker and abominable the frequent rape,abuse,murder,torture organ trafficking, of centralamericans(including children) is becoming the NORM with the complicity opf the Mexican official paramilitary forces,and the mute acquiesced of the Mexican gov’t,the human rights institutions in mexico and also international agencies(CIDH,UN,Amnesty,etc.). In the US centralamericans are being forced into a economic status of invisible underground slave workers. Socially the US traditional power elite is encouraging Mexicans racist,ethnocentric attitudes towards centralamericans in the private and PUBLIC sectors despite the fact tha many centralamericans are US born,naruralized citizens that even under illegal status also PAY TAXES,. In Salinas California the local police force is mostly “Mexican” in the past 2yrs. about 6-12 salvadoreans had been shot execution style, the Mara Salvatrucha(MS) has become the number#1 public enemy eventhought criminology experts agreed that MS is NONexistent in Salinas and other US metropolitan/border cities and only marginally operative in the US as a whole!!. This new US economic migratory policy is bound to fail,to create more introethnic friction,more internal instability in the region etc. AND the US factical powers are fully aware,of this and also plan it and is part of their expected REsults. CENTRALAMERICANS THE SLAVE LABOR!!


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