Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan: Shining a Light on Immigrant Detention Center Abuses
It wasn´t your usual group of Central Americans arriving at the immigrant detention center in Tapachula, Mexico. The center guards are used to receiving buses of detainees awaiting deportation to their home countries, but this group was comprised of family members of migrants, caravanning through Mexico to protest the inhumane treatment their relatives receive during their journey via Mexico to the US.
Standing together in front of the locked gates and armed guards, about 150 Central American and North American activists called upon Mexican immigration authorities to clean up their act. “I was beaten by an immigration officer in Huixtla, Chiapas, even though I had authorization to be in Mexico,” testified one Honduran man. “I was caught by immigration in northern Mexico, but they turned me in to kidnappers, who held me and abused me for 4 months,” said a Honduran woman from behind dark sunglasses to protect her identity.
“These are just some of the abuses,” emphasized Irineo Mujica, a Mexican migrant rights activist, “Here in this detention center, there are stories of rapes, mistreatment, exploitation. They charge migrants 4 times the price just to call their families. They hold them for months and months–long past the authorized amount. They call this a detention center, but just look at the bars on the windows. This is a prison!”
After Mr. Mujica, Father Heyman Vasquez, director of the migrant shelter in Arriaga, Chiapas, spoke up, demanding that the United States also be held accountable for the treatment of migrants in Mexico. “The US is using Mexico to push its border further south!” he shouted. He then went on to point out that the United States uses its aid money and diplomatic pressure to encourage Mexico to beef up its immigration enforcement, particularly along its Southern border.
Indeed, out of the 1.4 billion dollar aid package the United States began providing to Mexico through Plan Mérida (aka Plan Mexico) in 2008, 20% is designated for immigration authorities. These funds go to things like buses for deportations, more migration check point and detention centers, and arms and equipment for Mexican authorities. Supposedly aimed to promote order, human rights defenders are seeing that this same strong-handed enforcement has led to the situation of abuses and extreme violence against migrants that they witness every day in Mexico.
After the testimonies and speeches, the group moved forward and formed a human chain directly in front of the gates. We chanted together “Stop the kidnappings! Stop the rapes! Stop the abuse!” I moved with the group, linking arms with the two Central American women at my sides, knowing that, as a United States citizen, the struggle to end violence against migrants in Mexico is just as much my fight as theirs.
Previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:
Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights
Part 2: U.S. Immigration Enforcement Hits Home