MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s immigration enforcement is increasingly militarized with the armed forces and National Guard now accounting for more migrant detentions than immigration agents, according to a report published Tuesday by six nongovernmental organizations.
The human rights and migrant advocacy groups, among them the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic State of Law, say that many of the detentions are also arbitrary, based on racial profiling and have led to abuses.
The armed forces are supposed to just be supporting immigration agents in their work, but the organizations found that they are now responsible for the majority of detentions.
Between June 2019 and December 2020, the armed forces and National Guard detained more than 152,000 migrants just at Mexico’s southern border, according to public information requests made by the Citizen Security Program at Iberoamericana University. During that same period the Interior ministry reported that 190,000 migrants had been presented to immigration authorities.
Mexico had already been moving toward increased reliance on the military, but it has accelerated under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, according to the report. Under pressure from then U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019, López Obrador deployed the newly created National Guard, a security force in theory civilian, but in reality under military control.
At the time, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations expressed concerns that the shift to more militarized enforcement would lead to abuses. Even the leadership of the National Immigration Institute was changed, replacing a sociologist schooled in immigration, with the head of Mexico’s prisons. Military officers, some retired, were named to lead at least eight of the institute’s state offices.
Migrants of African origin and women, in particular, have been subject to abuses including discrimination, extortion and sexual abuse, the report said. The groups participating in the report have brought lawsuits in some of those cases.
A particular problem has been mobile checkpoints along highways, something the Supreme Court just declared unconstitutional last week because they lead to racial profiling.
Last August, Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said that the main objective for the Army, Navy and National Guard was “to stop all migration” and “cover the northern border, the southern border with soldiers.”
U.S. Ambassador Ken Salazar said last week in a news conference that the focus on Mexico’s southern border and in the narrow isthmus just above it “were the keys to resolving the problems that we have now about the migration flow,” noting that it was easier to control a line of 300 kilometers (186 miles) than the entire U.S.-Mexico border spanning more than 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).