Central America: US returns migrants to danger

US government policies for dealing with unauthorized migrants at the Mexico-US border are endangering Hondurans and other Central Americans by sending them back to their home countries without adequate consideration of their asylum claims, according to a 44-page report that the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization released on Oct. 16. "In its frenzy to stem the tide of migrants from Central America, the US is sending asylum seekers back to the threat of murder, rape and other violence," said Clara Long, the HRW researcher who wrote the report, "'You Don't Have Rights Here': US Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to Risk of Serious Harm."

Based on interviews with 25 recent deportees in Honduras and 10 Central Americans in detention centers in Artesia, NM, and Karnes, Tex., the report describes cursory screening by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents who regularly ignore migrants' credible claims of danger from criminal gangs in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Data that HRW obtained from the CBP for 2011-12 tells the same story. At least 80% of Hondurans apprehended at the border were placed in summary removal proceedings, according to the CBP, and only 1.9% were flagged as possible asylum seekers, despite the fact that Honduras currently has the world's highest murder rate. By comparison, CBP agents flagged 21% of migrants from other countries for secondary, in-depth screening. (HRW, Oct. 16)

Central American migrants face even worse obstacles during their journey north through Mexico. In early October the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (TPP), an international group founded in Italy in 1979 to influence world opinion on various issues, heard testimony in Mexico City on the migrants' treatment. Father Pedro Pantoja, who organized a migrants' shelter in Saltillo in the northeastern state of Coahuila, described Mexico as "a hell for migrants," who are threatened by criminal gangs and corrupt officials and are subjected to increasingly strict enforcement measures from the Mexican government. While the TPP was meeting, interior secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the government would now require freight trains to double their speed as a way of deterring Central Americans from riding on them. Migrants testified at the TPP hearings that Osorio Chong's new speeds would cause more deaths and injuries but wouldn't stop the migration. (The Progressive, Oct. 8)

Mexican advocates trying to help the migrants are also subject to harsh treatment. The Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca, directed by Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, has reported on an attack by agents from the federal government's National Migration Institute (INM) in Chibela, Oaxaca on Sept. 18. Volunteers, including the photojournalist Irineo Mujica Arzate and Marlene López, an academic researcher, were accompanying a group of migrants when they were stopped by INM agents backed up by soldiers. The agents physically and verbally attacked the volunteers and seized their cameras as they tried to record the incident. The shelter reported that at least 57 people, including migrants and volunteers, had been attacked in the area since August. (Adital, Brazil, Oct. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 19.