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The refugees at Mexico’s door

11 October 2015

Although President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico said when he announced the so-called Southern Border Plan that it was to “protect the human rights of migrants as they pass through Mexico,” the opposite has happened. By the Mexican government’s own accounting, 72,000 migrants have been rescued from kidnappers in recent years. They are often tortured and held for ransom. The survivors tell of being enslaved working in marijuana fields or forced into prostitution. Many are killed — sometimes they have organs harvested — in what’s become an invisible, silent slaughter. The government push has been interpreted as open season on migrants who have become prey to an exploding number of criminals and the police who rob, rape, beat and kill them.


As Mexico has blocked refugees from moving forward, it places enormous obstacles in the way of being able to apply for asylum in Mexico. Those who are detained by migrant officials and are allowed to apply remain locked up during a process that can take months or a year, sometimes in jails where rats roam by day and worms infest the food migrants get. Of those who are able to hold out for a decision, only about 20 percent win — less than half of the roughly 50 percent asylum approval rate of the United States. Mexico granted asylum to 18 children last year.

“You can lock people inside a burning house, you can close the front door, but they will find a way out,” says Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “The U.S. doesn’t want to recognize this as a refugee situation. They want Mexico to be the buffer, to stop arrivals before they get to our border.”

OTHER surrounding Latin American countries outside the so-called three conflicted Northern Triangle countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — have seen an almost 1,200 percent spike in asylum claims between 2008 and 2014, according to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees study.

Sonia Nazaro, “The Refugees At Our Door” (New York Times, 10 October 2015)

Photo:  Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Photo: Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

Although the United States bears the responsibility for the conditions that are driving Central Americans northwards (especially those who claim their narcotics consumption is a matter of “individual choice”: a particularly American way of denying any sort of social ties to the rest of humanity), the Mexican government (and many here in Mexico) have forgotten not just their humanity, but their history. Bad enough forgetting that the Central Americas are “us” and only have been separated by an accident of history, what is galling is that we’ve turned away from our traditional welcome to refugees in this instance. While Mexico has in the last few years taken in more than its share of dispossessed Haitians and has absorbed non-traditional migrants from the former Soviet Union, Korea, China and Congo, in this instance, it is forgetting the nation’s heroic past, exemplified by people like Isidro Fabela (who, ironically, was the “founding father” of Peña Nieto’s political family, the Atlacomulco Group) and Gilberto Bosques who opened Mexico to the dispossessed… following a policy that went back to Benito Juarez. And… in what is most shameful, kowtowing to the United States, and allowing itself to the the “dirty work” for a nation that openly supports doing to Mexicans as it is doing to its brothers and sisters from the south.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. buddenbooks permalink
    11 October 2015 6:39 pm

    I wish that I couldthink of a better word than wonderful, but this is wonderful, moving and on-target

  2. 12 October 2015 3:11 am

    Recently I read the phrase “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” and it seems relevant here.

  3. roberb7 permalink
    12 October 2015 9:41 am

    Here’s the site for Hermanos en el Camino, mentioned in the _New York Times_ article:

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