Recently, immigration has been all over the news, but not many of these conversations have touched on human rights. There are different angles to the immigration debate; this website will focus on economic migrants’ rights.
Economic migrants leave their country of origin in order to improve the quality of their life, but they are often categorized as undocumented immigrants (International Organization for Migration). According to Migration Information Source, undocumented immigration flows in the United States are created because the demand for visas exceeds the amount of visas that can be given so economic migrants turn to “illegal” channels to enter the country. In Mexico, there are different types of economic migrants. There are undocumented migrants who enter Mexico in order to get to the United States, and there are migrants, mostly Guatemalan, who stay in southern Mexico to work (Angeles Cruz 22). Because migrants don’t always fit the categories that are laid out by international legal frameworks, the type of protection that they are entitled to is not always clear so some migrants fall into “protection gaps” (Koser 1). Although economic migrants are a vulnerable population, they have oftentimes been invisible on the international human rights agenda and there is no mandate that protects their rights to the extent that other migrants, such as refugees, are protected while most migration policies are made outside a human rights framework. Migrants have been granted some protection under the UN International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and their Families (ICMW) which entered into force in 2003 (Migration Information Source). The United States is not a signatory to the treaty while Mexico is, but with some reservation (UN Treaty Collection).
The United States is known as a a nation of immigrants, but recently there have been many debates on what will happen with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who reside here. According to MigrationInformation.org, in 2011, out of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 58% were from Mexico. This can explain some of the reasons why the immigration debate has been so focused on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The relationship between the United States and Mexico is largely based on economics. Although both countries are part of global society in which they participate through trade, their proximity and the mass immigration from Mexico to the United States has created an inextricable link between the two countries. Mexico and the United States are linked economically because Mexican immigrants in the United States migrate for economic reasons, like for work, and not as refugees. As a result, immigration policies in the United States towards Mexico have usually been economic polices (Saragoza).
In the United States, undocumented immigrants fall into a protection gap because the immigration policies that are in place are geared towards the protection of American citizens without taking undocumented migrants into much consideration (Shackford-Bradley). For example, the prevalence of violence along the border has been increasing meaning that migrants are more prone to become victims of theft and be physically, verbally and sexually abused by criminal gangs, human smugglers, human traffickers and thieves. These dangers are not considered by U.S. migration authorities when deporting undocumented immigrants to northern Mexico. Migrants are also prone to abuses and misconduct committed by the U.S. Border Patrol, other U.S. migration authorities and by the local Mexican police (Danielson) The dangers faced by immigrants while crossing the border can aslo lead to death. The Huffington Post reported that there were 477 known migrant deaths on the U.S. Mexico border in 2012.
Another example can be the many undocumented immigrants who are put into detention centers without the right to due process. Because of the Secure Communities Act that was passed in 2008, local law enforcement have been turning in any undocumented immigrants that they have contact with resulting in more people put in detention centers without informing their families and without being provided an attorney (Lost in Detention). According to the documentary Lost in Detention, this happens because agencies need to meet a quota of 400,000 deportations a year in order to receive more funding from Congress. This is what Mark Krikorian (Executive Director Center for Immigration Studies), had to say in the documentary on undocumented immigrants not having the right to due process in detention centers:
The documentary “The Immigration Paradox” tries to unveil some of the abuses and truths about immigration. You can watch the trailer below:
Because many undocumented immigrants in the United States are Mexican born, Mexico has tried to protect immigrants’ rights. Mexico does so by having consular officials protect the interests of Mexican nationals in the United States and establishing the Institute of Mexicans Abroad which delivers civic, health, education, and financial services to migrants (Migration Policy Institute 1). The Mexican government has also tried to protect its nationals by trying to create a bilateral immigration agreement. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has stated that the United States and Mexico need to “make better efforts in the immigration politics” (Univision).
The Mexican government has been criticized for “committing the same kinds of abuses along its southern border that for years it has criticized the United States for” (Flynn 34). In 2010, when ex-President Felipe Calderon spoke out against Arizona’s SB1070, Slate wrote the article “¡Fuera de Aquí! Mexico’s president criticized the new Arizona immigration law for being discriminatory. How tough are Mexican immigration laws?” in which they broke down Mexico’s immigration laws and how tough they are. So, does Mexico have the same kind of protection gap as the United States?
Because of its location, Mexico is a source of emigration to the United States and a source of immigration from Central America. Through the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s many Central Americans emigrated because of the civil wars that were going on. Many civil war refugees either went to Mexico, or went through Mexico to get to the United States. The civil wars in Central America ended in the 1990’s, but emigration continues today.
Currently, Central American countries like Guatemala (Mexico’s southern neighbor) are plagued with violence. Many Central Americans are forced to leave their countries due to the high levels of violence, but when they do so, they have nowhere to go. Undocumented Central American migrants who cross the Guatemalan border with Mexico face many hardships and human rights violations because of the corruption in Mexico and the dominance that drug trafficking cartels have throughout the country (Sistiaga).
Mexico has increased border security, but that is not enough to protect migrants from the dangers of the border. Mexico’s Plan Sur (Southern Plan) aimed to protect vulnerable populations who cross the border (Flynn 32). Despite these efforts, Mexican police are often accused of exploiting migrants for bribes, and local gangs often kidnap migrants (Reuters). Mexican deportation practices also leave migrants in a protection gap because although police and security agents are supposed to turn undocumented migrants to Migratory Services, they often don’t. Migrants in detention centers are supposed to be held for 36 hours at most, but are usually held longer with no due process (Frelick 230-231). The Mexican Non-Governmental Organization Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) complained that detention centers are routinely overcrowded with migrants (Flynn 32).
This lecture titled “Travelers in Hiding: Telling a Story of Central Americans in Mexico” outlines some of the dangers that Central Americans face while traveling through Mexico through the story of the 72 Central American migrants who were murdered:
Some undocumented immigrants go through Mexico in order to reach the United States. Because many Central Americans do not have the economical means to pay for transportation towards the United States, most of them travel on “La Bestia,” a freight train. Migrants wait by the train tracks and when the train is approaching, they jump on the ladders on the side of the train all the way to the top in order to make room for the others. This is a dangerous practice because people are often injured trying to get on the train or fall off the top of the train (Sistiaga). According to Sistiaga’s documentary, “A Lomos de la Bestia,” many of the train conductors are associated with the cartels and stop the train in different locations so that they can get on, and there are people who travel on the train signaling who has the most money and belongings so that they become easier targets. This has resulted in at least 20,000 kidnapped a year and in 7 out of 10 women being raped (Sistiaga).
Both Mexico and the United States have a lot of work when it comes to closing the protection gap which economic migrants fall in. Migrants face many hardships when crossing borders, but these hardships are rarely taken into consideration when creating migration policies.
Flynn, Michael. “¿Dónde Está La Frontera?” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 58.4 (2002): 24-35. SAGE Publications. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Frelick, Bill. “Running the Gauntlet. International Journal of Refugee Law 3.2 (1991): 208-242. Oxford Journals. Web. 14 Feb. 2013.
Saragoza, Alex. Personal interview. 08 Mar. 2013.
Shackford-Bradley, Julie. “Immigration and Human Rights in the US.” PACS 127 Lecture. 213 Wheeler, Berkeley. 30 Apr. 2013. Lecture.