Mexico Harsh to Undocumented Migrants
By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 18,
6:08 PM ET
TULTITLAN, Mexico - Considered felons by the
government, these migrants fear detention, rape and
robbery. Police and soldiers hunt them down at
railroads, bus stations and fleabag hotels. Sometimes
they are deported; more often officers simply take
While migrants in the United States have held huge
demonstrations in recent weeks, the hundreds of
thousands of undocumented Central Americans in Mexico
suffer mostly in silence.
And though Mexico demands humane treatment for its
citizens who migrate to the U.S., regardless of their
legal status, Mexico provides few protections for
migrants on its own soil. The issue simply isn't on
the country's political agenda, perhaps because
migrants make up only 0.5 percent of the population,
or about 500,000 people compared with 12 percent in
the United States.
The level of brutality Central American migrants face
in Mexico was apparent Monday, when police conducting
a raid for undocumented migrants near a rail yard
outside Mexico City shot to death a local man,
apparently because his dark skin and work clothes made
officers think he was a migrant.
Virginia Sanchez, who lives near the railroad tracks
that carry Central Americans north to the U.S. border,
said such shootings in Tultitlan are common.
"At night, you hear the gunshots, and it's the
judiciales (state police) chasing the migrants," she
said. "It's not fair to kill these people. It's not
fair in the United States and it's not fair here."
Undocumented Central American migrants complain much
more about how they are treated by Mexican officials
than about authorities on the U.S. side of the border,
where migrants may resent being caught but often
praise the professionalism of the agents scouring the
desert for their trail.
"If you're carrying any money, they take it from you
federal, state, local police, all of them," said
Carlos Lopez, a 28-year-old farmhand from Guatemala
crouching in a field near the tracks in Tultitlan,
waiting to climb onto a northbound freight train.
Lopez said he had been shaken down repeatedly in 15
days of traveling through Mexico.
"The soldiers were there as soon as we crossed the
river," he said. "They said, 'You can't cross ...
unless you leave something for us.'"
Jose Ramos, 18, of El Salvador, said the extortion
occurs at every stop in Mexico, until migrants are
left penniless and begging for food.
"If you're on a bus, they pull you off and search your
pockets and if you have any money, they keep it and
say, 'Get out of here,'" Ramos said.
Maria Elena Gonzalez, who lives near the tracks, said
female migrants often complain about abusive police.
"They force them to strip, supposedly to search them,
but the purpose is to sexually abuse them," she said.
Others said they had seen migrants beaten to death by
police, their bodies left near the railway tracks to
make it look as if they had fallen from a train.
The Mexican government acknowledges that many federal,
state and local officials are on the take from the
people-smugglers who move hundreds of thousands of
Central Americans north, and that migrants are
particularly vulnerable to abuse by corrupt police.
The National Human Rights Commission, a
government-funded agency, documented the abuses south
of the U.S. border in a December report.
"One of the saddest national failings on immigration
issues is the contradiction in demanding that the
North respect migrants' rights, which we are not
capable of guaranteeing in the South," commission
president Jose Luis Soberanes said.
In the United States, mostly Mexican immigrants have
staged rallies pressuring Congress to grant amnesty to
millions of illegal immigrants rather than making them
felons and deputizing police to deport them. The
Mexican government has spoken out in support of the
While Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal said Monday
that "Mexico is a country with a clear, defined and
generous policy toward migrants," the nation of 105
million has legalized only 15,000 immigrants in the
past five years, and many undocumented migrants who
are detained are deported.
Although Mexico objects to U.S. authorities detaining
Mexican immigrants, police and soldiers usually cause
the most trouble for migrants in Mexico, even though
they aren't technically authorized to enforce
And while Mexicans denounce the criminalization of
their citizens living without papers in the United
States, Mexican law classifies undocumented
immigration as a felony punishable by up to two years
in prison, although deportation is more common.
The number of undocumented migrants detained in Mexico
almost doubled from 138,061 in 2002 to 240,269 last
year. Forty-two percent were Guatemalan, 33 percent
Honduran and most of the rest Salvadoran.
Like the United States, Mexico is becoming reliant on
immigrant labor. Last year, then-director of Mexico's
immigration agency, Magdalena Carral, said an
increasing number of Central Americans were staying in
Mexico, rather than just passing through on their way
to the U.S.
She said sectors of the Mexican economy facing labor
shortages often use undocumented workers because the
legal process for work visas is inefficient.