Commissioners: Felipe González, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Rodrigo Escobar Gil
i(dh)eas, Strategic Human Rights Litigation, A.C.
Respondent State
:  Mexico

On March 28th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the human rights situation of migrant persons on the southern border of Mexico at the request of i(dh)eas, Strategic Human Rights Litigation, A.C. (i(dh)eas), a non-profit strategic litigation firm based in Mexico City.

Estimating that anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 migrants enter Mexico each year, i(dh)eas raised concerns about the precarious situation of both those transiting through the country and those remaining to work for a period of time.  The petitioners were especially concerned with the detention situations of migrants, in particular the length of detention, hygienic conditions of the detention centers (estaciones migratorias), and migrants’ knowledge of and ability to exert their rights to legal representation and to access their consulates.

i(dh)eas uses documentation, research, data collection, and analysis as a means of highlighting the need for social change and state reform in Mexico.  Petitioners reported that almost 70,000 persons were detained in Mexican detention centers last year, although according to international standards, detention of migrants should be exceptional, rather than the norm.  The vast majority of the 70,000 were of Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Honduran, and Nicaraguan origin.  The State noted a memorandum of understanding signed with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which guarantees dignified and safe voluntary repatriation and does not affect subsequent attempts to re-enter Mexico since migrants are not registered as deported.  However, i(dh)eas, citing a 2010 Amnesty International report,  expressed concern that the application of voluntary repatriation, which is an administrative process, does not ensure migrants’ access to information or adequate documentation of the abuses they may have suffered.

The petitioners have conducted a study in which 400 migrants were interviewed in migrant shelters near the southern border to assess potential human rights violations.  The investigation found 81 human rights violations affecting 60 individuals in transit and 51 violations committed against migrant workers. The National Immigration Institute (INM) was the alleged perpetrator in more then 50% of the cases, while the federal police were the alleged perpetrators in almost 30%.  Seventy-four percent of migrants detained in the detention centers reported being offered no medical exam when they entered the station.  Moreover, over 90% reported that they weren’t advised of their rights, including their right to an attorney.

The petitioners also raised concerns about the issue of migrant kidnapping, prolonged, indeterminate periods of detention facing many migrants, poor sanitation in the detention centers, and the failure of the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) to intervene in cases in which the State is not directly involved.

The State highlighted several mechanisms that Mexico has in place to protect migrants, including a humanitarian visa for crime victims, an awareness campaign informing migrants of their rights in detention centers, an inter-institutional working group on unaccompanied minors, and 21 “Grupo Beta” offices at the northern and southern border.  Grupo Beta was created to provide protection to migrants and is available to provide first aid and rescue, social services assistance, general orientation upon arrival in Mexico, and humane repatriation to countries of origin.  Last year, Grupo Beta assisted approximately 200,000 migrants.

The inter-institutional working group brings together representatives from UNICEF, UNHCR, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid (COMAR), the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), and the INM to address the issue of unaccompanied children and adolescents, as well as migrant women. Mexico also noted the creation of a specialized group of 305 federal child protection officers (OPI), who are located in the detention centers and who have been provided with training and guidance materials on how to assist migrant children.  The government highlighted that other Central American and Caribbean countries facing similar migration challenges are replicating its OPI system.

As follow-up, the petitioners promised to provide additional information to the Commission and requested an on-site visit of the Commission to observe the situations facing migrants in Mexico.  The State suggested a subsequent dialogue to exchange information and ideas on the topic. At the close of the hearing, the State and the petitioners signed a cooperative agreement to strengthen human rights protections of migrants in Mexico and to further analyze the situation of migrants in Mexico. Commissioner Felipe González expressed his pleasure at the parties’ commitment to future collaboration and coordination.

Listen to the hearing below.