Frontera Fund News

The U.S. Pays Mexico to Kick Out Central Americans

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

July Pérez and her three young children are fleeing San Pedro Sula, the most murderous town in the most murderous country in the world: Honduras. Pérez’s 22-year-old brother was killed and dumped in a sewer ditch with his hands and feet chopped off. Her 14-year-old son was beaten, tortured and suffocated to death in a garbage bag after he refused to be a lookout for a gang.

Before her son’s murder, Pérez applied twice for a U.S. visa but was denied. The first time she tried to reach Florida, where her mother and grandmother live legally, Mexican officials deported her back to San Pedro Sula.

Another Honduran, José Marvin Martínez, fled his hometown for the U.S. after his brother Rigoberto was killed by gang members. Sixteen-year-old José found work in Texas as a mason’s assistant but was discovered by a border patrol agent and deported to Honduras. Four months later, he was gunned down outside a store.

Americans are often sheltered from these kinds of stories. We are aware that in 2014 there was a steep rise in unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. from Central America, and that the surge has since dwindled.

Between October 2014 and April 2015, the U.S. detained 70,226 non-Mexican migrants, mostly people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador escaping gang and drug cartel violence. The previous year it was 159,103.

The reduction sometimes gets explained in the public sphere as a triumph of U.S. Border Patrol crackdowns.

What is often not mentioned is that at the same time the U.S. halved the number of Central Americans we deported, Mexico nearly doubled the number of Central Americans they deported.

And the U.S. paid Mexico $86 million to do it.

That’s in addition to the $112 million America paid Mexico to block Central American migrants between 2009 and 2013.

We sure know how to outsource.

Mexican officials pre-filled in the question inquiring whether the migrant was afraid to return to their country; the answer was “No.” Migrants who are able to seek refugee status are often locked up for months in rat-infested jails and fed food crawling with worms.

As rushed and roughshod as U.S. deportation methods are, they’re nothing compared with Mexico’s tactics. Mexican immigration officials taser train-roof-riding migrants so they fall off moving freight cars. Or, to save effort, officials construct low-hanging structures that knock migrants off trains.

When July Pérez and her children were thrown in a Mexican detention center, officials violated the law by not giving her the opportunity to apply for asylum. Hers was not an isolated case.

At a Senate hearing on October 21, 2015, Dr. Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, described a visit to a migrant holding center in Chiapas, Mexico. He witnessed “a brazen disregard for migrant rights where registration forms were pre-filled before being given to the migrants, including the section of the form that asks whether the individual is requesting refugee status.” Officials pre-filled in the question inquiring whether the migrant was afraid to return to their country; the answer was “No.”

Migrants who are able to seek refugee status are often locked up for months in rat-infested jails and fed food crawling with worms. After enduring all of that, only about 20 percent of applicants are granted asylum in Mexico. In 2014, Mexico granted asylum to just 18 children.

The fate of many Central American deportees is horrifying.

At least 90 migrants deported by Mexico and the U.S. were murdered upon their return to Central America in the last 21 months, according to soon-to-be-published research from San Diego State University social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy. Kennedy’s estimates are based on newspaper stories alone, and she believes many more deportees have actually been killed.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program is failing dismally. Launched in September 2014, the program allows children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to apply for refugee status without leaving home, if they have a parent living legally in the United States.

Of the 4,600 children who’ve applied, only 11 have been conditionally approved for refugee resettlement, and 76 have been granted humanitarian parole status. That’s because the Department of Homeland Security has had time to conduct only 90 interviews.

What can be done? Next week, we’ll explore several actions the U.S. can take to stem the Central American exodus and help the refugees seeking asylum.