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Mexico’s Congress Should Ban Discriminatory Immigration Checks

Practice Ruled Unconstitutional by Supreme Court Last Year

A Mexican Marine orders a group of migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan off a bus at an immigration checkpoint outside the town of Viva Mexico, near Tapachula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, June 21, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Oliver de Ros

It was already dark when the bus I was riding pulled to a stop at an immigration checkpoint on the highway leading north out of Oaxaca, Mexico, towards Mexico City. These kinds of immigration stops and checkpoints have become commonplace across Mexico, which has faced pressure from the United States to prevent migrants from Central and South America and beyond from reaching the US-Mexico border. Soldiers and immigration agents board buses, pull over cars, stop people in airports, raid hotels, and patrol parks and plazas to apprehend undocumented migrants.

A Mexican immigration agent boarded the bus and began walking down the aisle. Although there were many tourists and other non-Mexicans on board, the agent only appeared interested in the around 10 Black passengers, who were taken off the bus, lined up, and photographed, before being allowed to board the bus once more.

This kind of obvious racial profiling by Mexican immigration agents is common. So common, in fact, that last May, in a landmark case filed by an Indigenous family who had been wrongly detained at a checkpoint, Mexico’s Supreme Court found that the legal provision allowing immigration agents to stop anyone and demand proof of their legal status is unconstitutional. The court said the provision violates the constitutional rights to equality, nondiscrimination, and free movement and that it disproportionately impacts Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people.

However, the Supreme Court ruling did not eliminate the unconstitutional provision from the immigration law. Mexico’s Congress should do that. Now, nearly a year later, legislators have introduced two proposals aimed at reforming the law. The first, which was approved by the lower house of Congress in March, is disappointingly superficial. It would allow immigration agents to continue conducting “random” immigration checks but add a line to the law specifying that agents should “avoid discriminatory practices.” This would do little to address discrimination, since it is impossible to determine nationality based on appearance alone.

The second proposal, which has not yet been put to a vote, is much more rights-respecting. It would eliminate altogether the unconstitutional legal provision, meaning that immigration agents would no longer be able to operate checkpoints inside the country, only at borders and ports of entry.

Immigration deterrence policies in Mexico have led to serious abuses against Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. Congress should take this opportunity to put an end to discriminatory immigration checkpoints as a first step towards putting an end to these abuses.

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