Mexico: arrested migrants on hunger strike; growing concern about abuses

Two undocumented Cuban migrants being held at a jail in the border town of Tapachula in Mexico’s southern Chiapas state were hospitalized after 21 days on hunger strike May 26. The local Fray Matias de Cordova y Ordoñez Human Rights Center said that the 11 jailed migrants—nine Cubans, a Guatemalan and a Dominican—went on hunger strike to demand their liberty after being arrested following what authorities called a “riot” (motín) at a detainment center of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute (INM). The detained migrants were awaiting transfer to Mexico City after being apprehended at the Guatemalan border. The “riot” seems to have been an escape attempt, in which nine migrants succeeded in fleeing the detainment center. (EFE, May 26; Noticias Sin, Dominican Republic, May 24)

The case comes amid an outcry over the conditions faced by undocumented migrants in Mexico, which late last month prompted President Felipe Calderón to sign a law that more clearly establishes migrants’ rights, mandates vetting and special training of INM agents, and and a sets up a process for investigation and punishment of corrupt officials. The measure decriminalizes the act of entering the country without papers, and entitles the undocumented to education and health services. “Migration puts people in a very serious situation of vulnerability,” Calderón said. “It puts them in humiliating conditions, exposed to every kind of abuse.”

Nearly 200 INM agents have been fired in the last year for a number of infractions, and 40 are facing prison time. Seven regional directors were fired in May amid allegations that agents had delivered Central American migrants to kidnapping gangs. Two other agents were arrested on charges they were forcing female Central American migrants into prostitution. (LAT, May 28)

On May 17, police in Chiapas found 513 migrants inside two trailer trucks, in dangerously crowded conditions. Some were suffering from dehydration after traveling for hours clinging to cargo ropes strung inside the containers to keep them upright as the trucks bounced along from the Guatemalan border, allowing more migrants to be more crammed in on the floor. The trucks were bound for the central city of Puebla, where the migrants said they had been told they would be loaded aboard a second set of vehicles for the trip to the US border. The migrants—from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, India, Nepal, China and even one from Japan—had apparently been charged $7,000 apiece for the trip. There were 32 women and four children among them. Chiapas state police discovered the migrants while using X-ray equipment on the trucks at a checkpoint in the outskirts of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital.

In January, Chiapas state police discovered 219 migrants similarly squeezed into a trailer truck. They were mostly from Central America but six were from Sri Lanka and four from Nepal. An estimated 500,000 people enter Mexico from Central America en route to the US each year. (AP, May 17)

The kidnapping of migrants in recent months has been reported from Chiapas, from Oaxaca, from Tabasco, and most famously from Tamaulipas, where abducted migrants have been massacred. In response to the growing violence, undocumented migrants in Mexico have started to organize to defend their rights, and received some solidarity from Mexican civil society.

See our last posts on Mexico, the crime wars and the politics of immigration.

Please leave a tip or answer the Exit Poll.