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As Mexico abuses migrants under Trump’s orders, where is Congress?

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Right now, Mexico is violently deploying the National Guard against a caravan of Honduran asylum seekers. Masses of troops on loan from the military rushed groups of families and pepper sprayed them. Parents were separated from their children in the chaos. Hundreds of people in need of protection have already been detained, pushed back to Guatemala, or summarily deported after handing themselves in. Human rights monitors have been denied full access to detention centers where caravan migrants are held.

In the U.S., the Homeland Security Acting Secretary cheered on Mexico’s violence. This is not new. Trump threatened punishing tariffs against Mexico last year to trigger a wider crackdown on migrants characterized by violence, abusive detention conditions, and frequent illegal deportations of asylum-seekers. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador got elected by promising to respect and guarantee human rights. He abandoned those promises under U.S. threats.

I run Asylum Access Mexico, the largest provider of asylum legal aid in Mexico. In the past year, we have seen huge increases in delays, arbitrary detention, and poor adjudications for our asylum clients in Mexico. Government data we obtained shows nearly 64,000 people are waiting for asylum in Mexico. Over 6,000 had been waiting for more than a year as of October 2019. National Guard deployment in the south and anti-asylum policies at the U.S. border have led to increasing numbers of applicants waiting in border states with high rates of poverty and violence.

Lawless immigration enforcement is not limited to the borders. In Mexico City, immigration officials at the airport deported a client to Venezuela without letting her make her asylum claim. When she returned to the same airport, they held her incommunicado for over a day without letting her talk to her lawyer or family. When she asked to apply for refugee status, an official told her refugee status “doesn’t exist.” This case exemplifies a pattern of arbitrary detention and deportation at the airport, where the asylum agency has no presence.

I have spent years pushing for Mexico to respect the human rights of migrants. My organization works closely with Mexican agencies to improve their treatment of refugees. We work to hold our government responsible for its human rights violations. Mexico has strong, protective asylum laws. But U.S. threats speak louder than the law.

It’s not just Mexico. The Trump administration is now using similar threats to compel Central American countries to block migration, with disturbing results. U.S. Border Patrol officers helped Guatemalan police arrest Hondurans from the caravan and return them to the border in U.S.-funded buses. Guatemala has agreed to take asylum-seekers from other countries sent there against their will from the U.S. border — potentially including Mexican citizens. After signing an agreement with the U.S., El Salvador has been discouraging its own citizens from joining a new caravan north — going so far as to charge a man with human trafficking for encouraging people to join the caravan. Caravans are organized for safe travel and joining is free.

Where is Congress? Members of Congress have fought funding for a physical wall but have ignored the wall of Mexican military.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations must provide oversight. House Foreign Affairs rightfully protested the freezing of U.S. aid to Northern Triangle countries but has been silent on threats against Mexico. Committee member Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) led a visit to Matamoros to see the impact of U.S. policy on some migrants in Mexico. The Committee should use its power to investigate the full abuse of U.S. influence over Mexico to encourage human rights violations.

The Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee also have a role to play. These committees have been involved in negotiating the new free trade agreement with Mexico. They should make it clear that tariffs must not be used to compel human rights abuses.

This oversight would complement the new promising investigation by the House Judiciary Committee focused on the cruel Migrant Protection Protocols at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexico can be a welcoming place for asylum seekers, whether they choose to stay or continue north. We will continue to push Mexico to do better. We need the U.S. to stop fighting against human rights.

Alejandra Macías Delgadillo is the executive director of Asylum Access Mexico.

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