Like the United States, the Mexican government expressly expels thousands of migrants, many of them humanitarian asylum seekers. The strategy has been questioned by international human rights organizations because, in fact, Mexico became the migratory wall that so many members of US politics demanded.
BY RODRIGO SOBERANES | PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO: DUILIO RODRÍGUEZ
Every day thousands of people from the south –especially from Central America– arrive at the border region between Tapachula, Chiapas, and Guatemala. They are part of a permanent flow that is rarely interrupted. The most recent was in 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic forced the total closure of almost the entire planet.
Starting in the second half of 2021, daily life in this area was altered: thousands of migrants began to arrive from the north, most of them in buses escorted by the National Guard and the National Migration Institute (INM).
At first glance, the move seemed normal: an operation by the Mexican government to expel undocumented migrants from the country. But there was something else.
In addition to the wave that arrives by land, hundreds of people deported on flights from the United States also arrived, as well as from several cities in northern Mexico.
An airlift that has been harshly criticized by human rights organizations, especially by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The center of the controversy is that most of the people deported to the southern border of Mexico are expelled immediately by the US government, through the decree known as Title 42.
This is a measure established in March 2020, by then US President Donald Trump, to contain the covid-19 pandemic, and which contemplates the express exit of all those who cross the border by land without immigration documents, which will eventually become a migration control tool.
Current President Joe Biden has maintained the strategy, which has been described by the organization Witness at the Border as “the largest mass deportation campaign in five decades.”
Biden, who was vice president during Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House, toughened immigration policy with a special operation to send thousands of people expelled from their country on planes to the Mexican southeast.
The airlift operated between August and December 2021, and involved the mobilization of more than 14,000 migrants , according to estimates by Witness at the Border.
Most were Guatemalans and Hondurans “first expelled from the United States to southern Mexico by air, and then expelled through Mexico by land to Guatemala,” the organization said in a report published in January 2022.
In neither case, he adds, were they granted “their legal right to assert their rights to seek protection,” such as humanitarian asylum. In all cases, the argument for deportation was the Title 42 decree with which more than 1.7 million people were expelled from the United States, according to data from the Customs and Border Protection Office of that country.
The “removal flights” , as operations to deport migrants by air are known, are coordinated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE).
The 2021 special operation –accepted by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador– involved sending 143 flights that landed at the airports of Villahermosa, Tabasco, and Tapachula, Chiapas, says Witness at the Border.
Other organizations, such as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), estimate 168 flights to the Mexican southeast.
The expelled people were immediately taken in buses by the National Migration Institute (INM) and the National Guard (GN) to Guatemala. The migrants were only allowed to get out of the vehicles upon arrival at the border ports of El Ceibo and El Carmen.
The mass expulsion disrupted life in the region and caused problems for the Guatemalan government. An example is El Ceibo , a community of just a few hundred inhabitants that, from one moment to the next, encountered a wave of migrants.
Hundreds slept on the streets, since the only shelter on the site has the capacity to serve only 30 people, acknowledges the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM).
The Guatemalan government was not notified about the start of the mass deportation, said the US organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). The information was confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of that country.
In a statement dated August 17, days after the US airlift began, the Ministry expressed its concern about the arrival of foreigners at the border ports of El Ceibo and El Carmen: “The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry has sent diplomatic communications requesting official information to the governments of Mexico and the United States on these migratory movements”.
Beyond the diplomatic differences, the most serious thing is that the expelled migrants had their rights violated twice , warns HRW: When they were expressly expelled by the United States, and then when the Mexican government took them out of its territory.
“Many of the expelled people have been denied the possibility of requesting asylum by Mexican immigration agents and have been forced to cross into Guatemala without notifying their respective consulates or the Guatemalan government,” he said in a statement.
The expulsions are not limited to Guatemala. Along with the ICE removal flights, the INM sent hundreds of Haitians who were without immigration documents to the United States, where they intended to apply for asylum.
In fact, activists say, Mexico is an efficient wall against migration, which in this case is militarized, warns Wilner Metelus, president of the Citizen Committee in Defense of Naturalized and Afro-Mexicans (CCDNAM).
“We cannot expect protection for migrants at the southern border,” says Metelus. “The idea of using the National Guard was to contain abuses, rapes and murders, but today what it does is stop migration.”
And he sentences: “The Mexican government is doing dirty work for the United States government.”
THE “CRUEL TREATMENT” OF MEXICO
The airlift is not the only mass deportation operation in which the INM is involved. In fact, most of the expulsions of migrants take place in buses.
According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute, in 2021, Mexico deported 40,723 Guatemalans in 1,195 buses that crossed the Tecún Umán border. During that period, 56,621 Hondurans were sent to their country by land, according to data from the Migration Policy Unit of the Ministry of the Interior.
Most were delivered to the customs office in Corinto, on the border between Guatemala and Honduras.
The epicenter of this operation is Tapachula, Chiapas, where as of December 2020 there is an intense presence of people from Haiti and Africa, who join the permanent wave from Central America.
Thousands of them have remained virtually locked up in the area, where there is a deployment of 13,000 members of the GN, the Army, the Navy and the INM. The operation is part of the Plan for Migration and Development of the North and South Borders.
In any case, it is one face of the new reality in this region. The other is the intense movement for the expulsion of migrants.
An example is Talismán, Chiapas, one of the places where the INM sent those who arrived by plane from Texas, United States, and where the transit of buses is constant, some without a logo that identifies them, which take people to Honduras.
The driver of one of these vehicles who recently returned from Omoa, on the Honduran Caribbean coast, recounts the journey of more than 1,300 kilometers without stopping from Tapachula, on the Mexican Pacific coast.
It was more than 22 hours of crossing to cross all of Guatemala, he says, with the slogan of not stopping and taking the passengers as quickly as possible.
During the trip, the bus was watched every minute by the armed forces of the three countries through which it traveled, says the driver, who requested anonymity.
The surveillance was to prevent rebellions inside the bus that compromised the safety of the driver and, above all, to guarantee that the deported people left Mexican territory.
The movement is permanent. A customs guard from Talismán (also requested anonymity) recounted that buses with deportees cross the border every three hours on average.
The region is a virtual hunting ground for people on the move. At the exit of the highway that connects Tapachula with the center of the country, there is a checkpoint of the GN and the INM, which checks practically all the passenger buses that circulate in the area.
In one of the inspections, the military took down in less than 10 minutes a group of Haitians and Afro-descendants who could not prove their regular stay in Mexico. Several were minors.
They were all sent to Guatemala, from where they returned in less than three hours, to settle in small rooms located on the outskirts of the city (known as quarters ), to plan the next attempt to leave the militarized siege.
The activity intensified during the airlift of those expelled from the United States. Commercial airliners, such as the American Aero Airways or the Mexican MagniCharters, landed in Tapachula where INM agents and the National Guard were waiting for them.
Passengers were leaving the planes to board the waiting buses. Then they left the Tapachula airport at full speed escorted by National Guard patrols.
One of them headed for Talismán, where he crossed the border and entered Guatemala. The other went with their respective armed escorts to the Siglo XXI Immigration Station and disappeared inside its facilities, after a quick maneuver.
The operations were repeated almost daily. The airlift and the permanent expulsions by land have been questioned by human rights activists.
Graciela Zamudio, director of the organization Alma Migrante de Tijuana points out that in the recent strategy of the Mexican government “there is a lot of cruelty and business.”
“The United States is grabbing Mexico as a migration station that allows the application of a law in an extraterritorial manner without there being a bilateral agreement.” And sentence: “They are not even deported. They are in limbo.”
*This work is part of Under the boot. Militarization of immigration policy in Mexico , an investigation by the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic Rule of Law, Derechoscopio (Baja California), Integral Human Rights in Action (DHIA) (Chihuahua) and Uno de Siete Migrando (Chihuahua), in addition of the Network of Journalists on Foot, the Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI) and Sin Fronteras IAP. You can check the original post here. www.bajolabota.com.mx