The Cost of Stemming the Tide: How Immigration Enforcement Practices in Southern Mexico Limit Migrant Children's Access to International Protection

April 13, 2015 —

The Cost of Stemming the Tide The Cost of Stemming the Tide

Mexico’s immigration system is putting migrant children at risk of being returned to violent and dangerous situations by failing to provide adequate access to international protection before deporting them to their home countries, a group of Georgetown Law student researchers has found. 

A report published today by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute (HRI) finds that Mexico is currently falling short of its human rights obligations to ensure that migrant children are screened for international protection needs before being deported. The report, The Cost of Stemming the Tide: How Immigration Enforcement Practices in Southern Mexico Limit Migrant Children’s Access to International Protection, is the product of months of research, including dozens of interviews with affected children and families, advocates as well as government officials in Mexico. 

“Many children go unscreened for international protection by the Mexican government and, on top of that, have no knowledge of their right to apply for asylum,” said Georgetown Law student Mary Nelson, LL.M.’15, a co-author of the report. “Migrant children are one of the most vulnerable populations – many flee extreme violence and poverty yet are often left to fend for themselves when seeking protection in Mexico.” 

The researchers also found that migrant children in southern Mexico are systematically detained, often in poor conditions, for long and unpredictable periods. Detention conditions – coupled with the prospect of being detained for months while awaiting a decision on their status – deters children from seeking asylum, the group found. 

Seventeen-year-old Ricardo (a pseudonym), who spent ten months in detention after requesting asylum, told researchers that after even a few months, “I was getting desperate.” Said Ricardo, “You are like a fish in a glass of water. There is no place to go.” 

The United States has invested significant political and fiscal resources in the fortification of Mexico’s southern border. But encouraging increased apprehension and deportation of children at Mexico’s southern border may come at a significant cost to children’s rights. International law requires that countries receiving migrants, like Mexico, meaningfully inform them of their right to seek asylum and provide access to procedures to determine whether they merit asylum or other forms of international protection. Although Mexico’s laws, policies and constitutional provisions are meant to guarantee these protections, HRI found that they are failing to do so in practice. 

“On paper, Mexico has an immigration and refugee legal framework that is very thorough, protective, and human rights-oriented,” said Law Center student Andres Echevarria, LL.M.’15, a co-author of the report. “In practice, though, we found that the immigration system currently in place in Mexico operates more like a child-deportation machine.”

The report calls for the Mexican government to end the prolonged detention of migrant children and implement uniform procedures for evaluating and informing all children of their asylum rights. The report also appeals to the U.S. government to stop encouraging Mexico and other Central American countries to interdict migrants merely in order to prevent them from reaching U.S. territory, and to provide funding to Mexico for identifying and providing protection to all migrants who merit it.

“International law does not require countries to have worked out an answer to every challenge posed by caring for large numbers of migrant children,” said Georgetown Law student and report co-author Lindsey Keiser, L’16, “but countries in the region must do more to ensure that the fundamental human rights of migrant children are protected.”

Additional information and an electronic copy of the full report are available here

A panel presentation of the report will be held at 10:00 a.m. (GMT -04:00) today as part of the tenth annual Samuel Dash Conference on Human Rights at Georgetown Law. 

The Georgetown Human Rights Institute is the focal point of human rights at Georgetown Law and helps ensure the Law Center’s place as a center of excellence in human rights teaching and training and in producing policy-relevant and influential human rights ideas and research.

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