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November-December 2010
Vol. 35, No. 6

U.S.-Mexico border: Migrants face grave dangers

Recently, 26 nongovernmental organizations, including the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, signed this letter to President Obama, urging him to work with Mexican officials take stronger steps to ensure the human rights and protection of migrants who face grave dangers from violent forces along the border. Excerpts of the letter appear below.

... [In August], the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America were found on a ranch in northern Mexico ... A survivor recounted an alarming story: a group of migrants were kidnapped by one of several criminal organizations in Mexico that has extended their activities beyond drug trafficking and into kidnapping and extortion of migrants. When the abducted migrants, 58 men and 14 women, including teens and a pregnant woman, resisted their kidnappers’ demands and extortion attempts, they were brutally executed, one of the deadliest mass-killings in Mexico in many years.

While this massacre is appalling in its scale and barbarity, it is far from an isolated incident. In recent years, reports of unchecked violence and brutality against migrants by criminal gangs and corrupt officials have grown. According to a report released last year ..., an estimated 18,000 migrants are kidnapped in Mexico every year.

However, kidnappings make up only a fraction of the crime and violence affecting migrants passing through Mexico. Migrants suffer a range of abuses including torture, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder, committed by both organized crime, as well as police, soldiers, and other officials. Amnesty International estimates that 60 percent of migrant women traveling through Mexico fall victim to sexual abuse. As groups that work to protect and promote the dignity and inherent rights of all humans, especially the most vulnerable among us, we urge you to take action to stop such egregious and routine abuses against migrants.

To bring an end to this crisis, we respectfully call on you to demonstrate leadership needed to:

  • Reform our broken immigration system to create safe, humane, and efficient ways to reunite family members and provide orderly channels of entry for migrant workers and their families.
  • Implement border security programs that reflect humanitarian values and strive to promote and protect the safety and human rights of border communities and migrants.
  • Jointly address root causes of migration to reduce the necessity for people to migrate. Despite the brutal passage through Mexico, many migrants choose to make the journey northward because they see few, if any, alternatives in their home communities that will allow them to support their families. We urge your administration to work with our neighbors to the south to address economic disparity and political instability in migrants’ home countries which are exacerbated by U.S. policies and trade agreements.
  • Ensure that migrants are not victimized by officials in the United States by working to prevent, and if necessary, prosecute migrant-related abuse, excessive use of force, and corruption by the Border Patrol and other U.S. officials.
  • Focus limited government resources on prosecuting criminals who engage in human trafficking rather than programs like Operation Streamline, which wastes money prosecuting non-dangerous migrants for immigration offenses.

Additionally, we encourage your administration to elevate the issue of pervasive violence against migrants in Mexico in bilateral dialogue with Mexico, as well as work with Mexican counterparts to:

  • Ensure that authorities on both sides of the border focus on the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of violence and crimes against migrants. While we have seen steps in the right direction ... enhanced political will, resources, and cross-border cooperation will be necessary to ensure robust and meaningful implementation of any new measures intended to strengthen migrant safety and well-being.
  • Protect migrants’ rights defenders. [Many] who provide humanitarian assistance and protect the rights of migrants have been the repeated target of threats, intimidation, and arrest by both drug gangs and local authorities. We urge authorities to denounce and end the impunity for violence and harassment of these brave defenders.

We respectfully urge you to take action to address the major human rights crisis facing migrants to ensure that the most vulnerable among us receive the basic rights inherently afforded to all humanity.

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