Mexico breaks record for migrant detentions

Until October 2021, the Government of Mexico has detained 228,115 migrants who were passing through the country illegally. The figure exceeds the record of migrant detentions in the last 20 years and represents an increase of 37% compared to 2019, the year before the pandemic, according to data from the Migration Policy Unit of the Ministry of the Interior (Segob ).

With both the Donald Trump and Joe Biden administrations, the López Obrador administration has run up against the US demand to be the retaining wall for migration from Central America.

On June 8 of this year, Vice President Kamala Harris met with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard to define a cooperation model for the development of southern Mexico and Central America that would stop the migration crisis and address the roots of the problem. One of the agreements is the Sembrando Oportunidades initiative, a scholarship and training program for young people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to find stable employment in their countries of origin.

A month after those negotiations, there was also an increase in the detentions and deportations of people illegally in Mexico. As of July this year, arrests increased to more than 42,000 arrests in September, 234% more than in 2019. By October, there were almost 36,000 people arrested, according to official statistics.

In response to the increase in arrivals, both Mexico and the United States have strengthened the application of immigration laws and measures aimed at preventing the transit of migrants, among them, the number of agents and troops at the border was increased, in a strategy combined in which multiple agencies of the Government, the Navy, the Army, and the National Guard participate. “Also increased complaints from immigrants for the excessive use of force by security officials against them,” says the latest report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

In the same way, arrests on the other side of the border with the United States also increased. The Biden Administration detained 1.6 million people between October 2020 and September this year. The highest figure since there are records, surpassing the governments of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.


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Most of the arrests in Mexico have taken place on the southern border with Guatemala, the gateway for migration from Central America. Palenque (Chiapas) is the southern municipality with the most arrests, almost 9,500; followed by Suchiate, with 8,834. However, there is an increase in arrests in states far from migratory routes, such as Guerrero, Michoacán, or Tlaxcala; a consequence of increased vigilance and pressure on the old itineraries. As a consequence, people choose to take other more dangerous roads on their way north. Apprehensions have also increased in the north of the country. Tamaulipas, Sonora or Nuevo León register significant increases.

As a consequence of the deep economic and political crisis in Central America, 84.5% of the people who migrate through Mexico come from this region. Mostly from Honduras and Guatemala. According to the latest data, immigration authorities have detained 97,000 Hondurans and 64,000 Guatemalans without documents so far this year. Economic instability, forced displacement, violence, and the effects of climate change are some of the reasons listed by international organizations to explain migration from these countries. “By the end of 2020, about 900,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador had been forced to leave their countries,” notes the IOM.

The arrest statistics for 2021 show a drop in the number of Asians and Africans compared to 2019 due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic in several Latin American countries. On the contrary, the arrests of people from Cuba and Haiti increased. 10% of all detainees. The problem of unaccompanied minors continues despite the drop in the number of arrests this year. Until October, 48,707 minors were detained, 3% less than in 2019. Of them, 1,124 were traveling alone, according to Mexican authorities. The figures only reflect a small part of what is estimated by international organizations. “Of the 226,000 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who arrived at the border with the United States in the first half of 2021, approximately 34,000 were unaccompanied minors”.


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