Toward Ending Child Detention in Mexico

A Partnership between Asylum Access

And the Rights and Opportunities Foundation

October 2018

The Problem

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (the Northern Triangle) are some of the most dangerous countries in the world due to gang-related violence; for many, extortion, kidnapping, sexual violence, threat of homicide and forced recruitment is a part of everyday life. As a result, the number of men, women and children who are fleeing the Northern Triangle has soared. In 2015, over 110,000 persons from the Northern Triangle applied for asylum globally. According to the Mexican refugees’ department, COMAR, the year of 2017 marked the highest number of applications for refugee status on record, with a staggering 1026% increase over what was presented in 2013.

At a time when countries should open their doors to protect those who are being persecuted — especially children — the trend has increasingly been to apprehend, detain and deport. For years, refugee parents had to take the treacherous and violent journey — often with their young children — through Mexico because of the promise of a better life in the United States. However, with the introduction of the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, that promise has faded. Child separation, threat of due process, and increased detention have devastated thousands of families on US soil.

This leaves people with the option of seeking asylum in Mexico. However, the Mexican refugees’ department is under-resourced and isn’t coordinating effectively with security forces or government offices with protection mandates. As a result, since 2014, over 500,000 men, women and children have been deported. Many will face life-threatening violence upon return.

The greatest victims of this inadequate system are children. Studies have shown that detained children are likely to experience anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that linger long into adulthood. These impacts worsen the longer a child is detained. Separating children from their detained parents – another common tactic – is similarly tragic for a child’s wellbeing. It is well-documented that separation can cause profound psychological harm. And, as we’ve seen along the US border in recent months, once families are separated it can be difficult to reunite them. In Mexico, we estimate 10,000 children are currently being held in detention facilities.

The Solution

Despite the prevalence of the problem, the door is open for change in Mexico. In July of 2018, left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won the Mexico presidential election. We have reason to believe this election will support efforts to end child detention, as Lopez Obrador has publically referenced the Mexican government’s treatment of migrants as ridden with human rights violations. Furthermore, incoming Secretary of the Interior, Olga Sanchez Cordero, has stated publicly that she wants Mexico to become “a place of refuge for Central Americans.” The time is now for civil society to support the new administration on addressing the systemic, legislative, and administrative challenges that lead to the widespread detention of children.

Rights and Opportunities Foundation is partnering with Asylum Access to provide for Alejandra Macias Delgadillo to participate on the Citizen’s Council, a body of civil society leaders named in the law as a support and advisory body to the Mexico National Institute for Migration (INM). Since the presidential election in Mexico, the new administration has asked the Citizen’s Council to prepare a proposal for how to improve migrant rights protection in detention centers. Rights and Opportunities Foundation, in partnership with Asylum Access, and the Citizen’s Council, will use this opportunity to address many widespread human rights violations related to detention and especially work toward the end of child detention in Mexico.

Additionally, Alejandra, the Mexico Director of Asylum Access with the support of the Rights and Opportunities Foundation will:

  • Support the research for the follow-on detention monitoring report to corroborate findings from the 2016 Citizen’s Council report, which surveyed 17 detention centers and interviewed officials and migrants alike. The report found that Mexico’s policies and practices are oriented toward the detention and deportation of migrants, rather than adequate implementation of Mexico’s laws or respect for migrants’ and refugees’ human rights. This follow-on report will focus on the experiences of children and will require Alejandra to participate in travel to 9 centers (Tapachula, San Cristobal de las Casas, Comitan, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Tenosique, Villahermosa, Acayucan, Guadalajara and Mexico City.
  • Conduct legal analysis and generating recommendations on how to harmonize the children’s law (which says children cannot be detained) and the refugee law (which does not make that distinction), in order to strengthen protection of children; and
  • Generate proposals for how the government can logistically and administratively improve the protection of children, for example, by ensuring child protection bodies operate independently from immigration bodies.

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