11/7 US-Mexico Border: Migrant Shelter Besieged
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Migrant Shelter Besieged
November 7, 2009A Catholic Church-run migrant shelter in the northern Mexican state of
Coahuila is the target of escalating attacks. Every day, Casa del Migrante
Posada Belen in the state capital of Saltillo serves between 80-100 mainly
Central American migrants headed to the United States. But since last
month, staff and property have been busy responding to aggression,
harassment and death threats.
Father Pedro Pantoja Arreola, shelter coordinator, reported that threats
against his person reached a fever pitch one evening last week when he
received 50 anonymous telephone calls in the space of several hours.
According to Pantoja, he could hear no words spoken on the other end of
the line-only breathing.
Earlier, on October 11, a shelter worker observed a group of about 12
people destroying an electricity meter and cutting off power. Later, on
October 25, a group of unidentified persons broke windows and destroyed an
electrical transformer, again shutting off power to the building. The
vandals reportedly shouted insults at the occupants inside and warned them
to leave the premises. On October 28, yet another group attempted to
forcibly enter the shelter, according to a letter from a network of 40
Mexican human rights organizations directed at high Mexican officials.
In the wake of the attacks, Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera accused the local
National Action Party (PAN) of creating a climate of hostility around the
presence of migrants. In particular, Bishop Vera singled out PAN state
legislator Carlos Orta for allegedly orchestrating a “campaign of
xenophobia” against Central American migrants.
Supported by other state lawmakers, Orta is pushing a legislative
initiative that urges the Mexican Congress to modify immigration
legislation and give Mexico’s Interior Ministry, an agency responsible for
internal security, authority to regulate church-run shelters. Orta
spearheaded the initiative after a Honduran immigrant was accused of
killing a local businessperson on September 30.
In his preamble to the proposed legislation, Orta made reference to the
“brutal murder of a citizen at the hands of a foreigner.” The PAN
representative said the “eternal conflict” between victims and criminals
was evidenced by the September 30 slaying of the Saltillo merchant.
According to Orta, migrant shelters should toe the line with National
Migration Institute (INM) rules and regulations governing the presence of
foreigners in Mexico.
“It’s regrettable and condemnable that someone who should be taking
advantage of his position to do good is instead committing injustices,”
Bishop Vera said of Orta. “We citizens don’t pay (politicians) high
salaries for this.”
Stretching from Chiapas to Chihuahua, church-sponsored migrant centers
provide food, medical attention and shelter to thousands of Central
Americans traveling to the United States. On the border, the facilities
also give assistance to undocumented migrants deported from the US.
Despite the recession and tougher US border controls, the shelters
continue welcoming large numbers of people from both directions.
Jesus Gerardo Lopez Macias, Saltillo INM delegate, said many Latin
Americans, especially adolescents, keep making their way north. In Ciudad
Juarez, the Casa del Migrante reported receiving 6,000 deportees through
October 31 of this year-a sharp increase over 2008 when the shelter
assisted 3,500 migrants for the entire year.
In the Saltillo region, tensions and troubles have accompanied the migrant
surge in recent years. In 2002, two Honduran migrants, Delmer Alexander
Pacheco and a man known only as Jose David, were murdered near train
tracks. According to the INM’S Lopez, young migrants face ongoing dangers
from sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
As in other regions of Mexico, organized bands of traffickers have
increasingly attempted to channel the migrant stream in Coahuila under
In response to the incidents at Casa del Migrante Posada Belen, the
Migration Forum network as well as Amnesty International issued statements
condemning the attacks and demanding urgent actions by Mexican authorities
to safeguard the shelter and its staff.
Until now, protective measures recommended by the National Human Rights
Commission, which were accepted by the federal Public Security Ministry,
have not been effective in eliminating threats to the shelter, the
Migration Forum charged.
Sources: La Jornada, November 3, 4 and 6, 2009. Articles by Leopoldo Ramos
and Emir Olivares Alonso. Zocalo.com.mx, October 27 and November 6, 2009.
Articles by Paola A. Praga and El Universal news service. Norte, November
3, 2009. Article by Claudia Ivonne Sanchez.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University Las Cruces,New Mexico=================================================================
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