Joint Submission to the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
37TH Session, November 2023– List of Issues
Mexico: Issues Related to Immigration Detention
The Global Detention Project (GDP) and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova (CDHFMC) are pleased to provide the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) this joint submission.
This submission concerns the detention of migrant workers. It focuses on the state party’s laws and practices concerning detention for immigration-related reasons and is made in light of the CMW’s recent authoritative General Comment No. 5 on migrants’ rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention.
1. CONTEXT AND KEY CONCERNS
Mexico has one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world, employing several dozen detention centres—euphemistically called estaciones migratorias—and detaining hundreds of thousands of people every year. While the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the country to temporarily release many immigration detainees, annual detention numbers continue to increase exponentially, reportedly surpassing 300,000 adult detainees in 2022, driven by surging numbers of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing Central America, mandatory detention practices, pressure from neighbours to the north to stop trans-migration, and Mexico’s growing militarisation of its borders and immigration enforcement procedures.
An indication of the migratory challenges facing Mexico is the sharp rise in immigration enforcement “events”—a term used to denote both people sent to detention centres (presentados) and children placed (canalizado) with the child welfare agency—which grew by nearly 250 percent between 2019 and 2022, reaching approximately 445,000 in 2022. In 2022 alone, Mexico apprehended no fewer than 126,000 migrant children, who were “channelled” into centres operated by the National Agency for Family Development (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familias, or DIF).
Also impacting Mexico’s immigration detention practices has been the United States, which has put increasing pressure on its neighbour to curb the number of people arriving at the U.S. border from Central America. U.S. limits on the number of people who can claim asylum, including those introduced during the Biden administration, have led to growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers being stuck in border towns, leaving them acutely vulnerable to abuses.
Mexico’s response to these pressures has been to tighten restrictions and broaden the range of actors involved in migration enforcement, spurring accusations that it is its militarising migration policy. The country has passed laws that provide national security agencies with migration enforcement roles, including the National Guard, a role previously reserved only for Mexico’s migration agency, the National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migration, or INM). It has also adopted plans that include deploying tens of thousands of armed forces to the northern and southern borders, which have become increasingly involved in detaining migrants and asylum seekers. Reports from civil society observers allege numerous human rights abuses by these forces.
As the migration situation in Mexico grows increasingly fraught, so too do the dangers that migrants face, particularly those in detention centres, many of which are notorious for their paltry, dehumanising conditions and repeated reports of abusive treatment from guards. In one recent tragic case that garnered global attention and opprobrium, some 40 migrants and asylum seekers burned to death in March 2023 at a detention centre in Ciudad Juarez, on the border with El Paso, Texas, when guards abandoned the facility after a fire started, leaving the detainees padlocked in their cells.
Aggravating the situation in Mexico is that the government has taken steps to block accountability of its treatment of detained migrants and asylum seekers, including preventing NGOs from accessing detention centres. This has prompted one observer to describe these centres as “black boxes.” With little or no transparency mechanisms or judicial control of detention practices, detention often exceeds constitutional limits and can even be extended indefinitely if the person files a legal recourse to defend their rights, as established in section V of Article 111 of the Migration Law.
One reason for blocking civil society access to detention centres may be the terribly deficient state of many centres and the degrading or inhumane treatment that detainees often face in them. A report from civil society oversight body of the INM, the Consejo Ciudadano del Instituto Nacional de Migración, describes instances of violence and excessive use of force by National Migration Institute personnel; lack of access to information, legal assistance, or due process rights; overcrowding; and poor sanitation.
There have been numerous reports of extortions, harassment, assault and sexual abuse, and corporal punishment, verbal and physical aggressions such as electroshocks and choking. In a joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review in advance of Mexico’s review in early 2024, a coalition of civil society organisations reported that between 2006-2021, there were 117 known cases of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment of people confined on Mexico’s immigration detention centres at the hands of agents of Mexico’s immigration service, the National Migration Institute.
Importantly, Mexico continues to place migrant children in detention situations that represent clear breaches of its commitments under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, including the best interests principle. The law establishes that the National Agency for Family Development (DIF) is responsible for identifying children in need of international protection. It created a Child Protection Authority tasked, among other responsibilities, with conducting best interest determination procedures and to protect children’s rights. However, observers have repeatedly reported that the DIF system to receive children at Social Assistance Centres (CAS) is severely limited and effectively amounts to detention. In response to this, the INM has set up spaces known as “Channelling Offices,”’ which are an extension of the detention centres, where it has been documented that they are held in worse conditions as adults at the facilities. As a result, more than a hundred thousand children were placed in a form of de facto, mandatory detention at CAS facilities in 2022, where they were forced to wait for between several weeks and several months to either, given a humanitarian visa, or be deported.
Also, there are concerns about the welfare of migrants and asylum seekers who may be confined in informal camps or other ad hoc settings, which may be operating outside any legal framework or proper oversight. Of particular concern are de facto detention sites along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. There have been growing concerns in this regard since March 2023, after the INM began closing provisional detention centres, which are under the monitoring protocols of the Mexican Human Rights Commission, in the wake of the deadly fire at the provisional detention centre in Ciudad Juarez. Observers report that migration authorities in the southern state of Chiapas subsequently began holding migrants and asylum seekers in tents or vehicles located in border regions, where they could wait long periods of time before being transferred to cities that were in some cases hundreds of kilometres away. Media reports indicate that as of June 2023, there were no fewer than ten roadblocks along the border operated by the INM and the National Guard that had informal holding camps nearby, many of which were uncovered leaving migrants completely exposed. In all these cases, there is a lack of information about whether the detentions are being recorded in an official register, whether there is any form of official oversight, or whether detainees are being provided information about their rights.