Mexico: migrants march for safe passage

A delegation of 15 Hondurans traveled to Mexico City in mid-April to seek a meeting with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and ask for his government to provide Central American migrants with a "humanitarian visa" allowing them to travel safely through Mexico on their way to the US. The delegation represented the 432 members of the Association of Migrants Returning with Disabilities (Amiredis), an organization of Hondurans injured while trying to cross Mexico; the vice president, Norman Saúl Varela, lost a leg while riding north through the southern state of Tabasco on a freight train that migrants call "The Beast." The group failed to get an interview with President Peña Nieto, but they managed to meet with Governance Undersecretary Paloma Guillén on April 11. (El País, Madrid, April 13 from correspondent)

This was just one of several recent efforts by Central American migrants to draw attention to the dangers they face while traveling through Mexico without documents: in addition to the risks of accidents on freight trains, they have routinely been subjected to robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder by criminal gangs, in many cases with the collusion of immigration officials and local police.

In early April a group of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua set out from El Naranjo, Guatemala, in what they called the "Viacrucis Migrante" ("Migrant Way of the Cross," a reference to a traditional Catholic representation of Jesus carrying a cross to his crucifixion). A number of immigrant rights activists went with the group in an effort to provide protection; among them were Rubén Figueroa from the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement; Fray Tomás González, director of La 72: Refuge-Home for Migrant Persons in Tenosique, Tabasco; and Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, director of the Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca. The group swelled to as many as 800 or 1,000 by the time it reached Mexico City, where the migrants tried unsuccessfully to meet with President Peña on April 23; they did arrange a meeting with Mexico City head of government Miguel Angel Mancera. In early May some 400 of the migrants reached the US border near Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and 61 of them crossed openly into Texas to seek asylum from US authorities; the asylum seekers were mostly mothers with children, unaccompanied minors, seniors and members of the LGBT community.

At least two other large groups of migrants have also tried to cross Mexico recently. In late April about 300 Central Americans set off on foot from the La 72 shelter in Tenosique. Another 300 Central Americans were to start a "Caravan of Migrants for Free Transit" on May 9 from the Brother and Sister Migrants on the Road shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec. Organizers said these open caravans and marches represent a shift from the migrants' usual practice of trying to pass through Mexico secretly. The new tactic was inspired by actions of the Dreamers in the US—undocumented youths who have publicly announced their immigration status at protests, and also at a border crossing in March—according to Father Solalinde.

The Mexican authorities have been inconsistent in their reaction. The federal government gave the Viacrucis Migrante group some 800 transit visas good for 30 days, but in Tabasco on April 30 agents of the National Migration Institute (INM) and the Federal Police (PF) detained 291 of the migrants marching from Tenosique; marchers were beaten, including Fray Tomás González and Rubén Figueroa, and children were reportedly left stranded when their accompanying adults were arrested. As of May 9 the group planning to leave from Ciudad Ixtepec had suspended its march because of a heavy presence of INM and PF agents along the route; organizers said the caravan might resume on May 19. Adding to the difficulties for the migrants, the Ferrosur and Kansas City Southern de Mexico railroad company has started enforcing a ban against use of the "The Beast" by migrants. (El País, April 24, from correspondent; La Opinión, Los Angeles, May 29, from correspondent, May 8 from correspondent; Adital, Brazil, May 6, May 14; El Universal, Mexico, May 10; New York Times, May 11, from correspondent)

The US government is now retaliating against Mexican authorities for the transit visas they gave Central American migrants in April, according to unidentified Mexican officials, who say 730 of the visas were used by migrants planning to enter the US without authorization. Currently the US is deporting Mexican immigrants to nine repatriation points along the border in which the Mexican government and private groups supply assistance to the deported Mexicans. Reportedly the US now plans to go back to using all 27 repatriation points, including many without services and in dangerous areas with a strong presence of criminal gangs. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 18.