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Mexican Soldiers and Immigration Agents Violently Detain Asylum Seekers

US Should Encourage Rights-Respecting Immigration Policy

Agents of the National Migration Institute detain a migrant during an operation to halt the progress of a caravan of migrants and asylum seekers in Chiapas state, Mexico on September 1, 2021. © 2021 Jacob Garcia/Reuters

Over the past week, Mexican immigration agents and National Guard members have been deployed to southern Mexico to break up a series of caravans of asylum seekers, including families and children, attempting to head north. Journalists and activists have followed the caravans and recorded many of their encounters with Mexican authorities. The scenes have been truly horrifying.

In one video, a Mexican immigration agent repeatedly kicks a migrant in the face while a second agent holds him down on the ground. In another video, National Guard members use their shields to knock over a Haitian man carrying a young child in his arms. “Kill me!” the man shouts, “Kill me with the child!” These examples are just a few among dozens.

According to reporters and activists traveling with the caravan, Mexican authorities have separated families, kicked and beaten migrants, broken into private homes in search of migrants, and assaulted journalists, activists, and representatives of Mexico’s human rights commission, who were attempting to document abuses. Both migrants and Mexican authorities have been injured in clashes.

Four caravans heading north since late August have been violently broken up by Mexican authorities. Unlike previous caravans, these formed not in Central America, but in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border. They have mostly consisted of Haitians and Hondurans who have already applied for asylum in Mexico and are waiting for a resolution of their cases.

Following pressure from the administration of US President Joe Biden to stop migrants from reaching the US border, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pursued a “containment” policy, focused on keeping migrants in southern Mexico – mostly in Tapachula.

Human Rights Watch visited Tapachula in early August. We found thousands of asylum seekers without work, housing, or food, often sleeping on the streets. Although they are technically permitted to travel anywhere in the state of Chiapas until their cases are resolved, immigration checkpoints prevented them leaving Tapachula.

The recent violence is an extreme consequence of the disastrous heavy-handed immigration strategy Mexico is implementing at the behest of the United States. In the long term, both countries need a new rights-based approach to immigration. In the short term, Mexican authorities should ensure agents who committed these abuses are held accountable both through internal investigations and collaborating with judicial authorities.

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