Friday, April 30, 2010

Coming to America

Given the harsh immigration law enacted in Arizona last week, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the toll that our border enforcement policy levies on migrants journeying from Central America to the United States. On Wednesday, Amnesty International released a report, Invisible Victims: Migrants on the Move in Mexico, that documents the serious human rights violations suffered by migrants traveling through the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, and Veracruz en route to the United States. At the margins of society, these Central American migrants are kidnapped, threatened, and assaulted by criminal gangs, other migrants, and corrupt officials, yet these crimes are rarely acknowledged, let alone prosecuted.
It is a challenge to gather reliable data on these abuses, but human rights organizations, academics, and shelters have conducted surveys that suggest that these migrant populations suffer high levels of violence and other wrongdoing, including arbitrary detention, extortion, beatings, robbery, sexual assault, and even murder. Some highlights:
  • A report published last year by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission estimated that between September 2008 and February 2009 nearly 10,000 migrants were kidnapped by criminal gangs, often in collusion with the police. The study suggested that the vast majority of these migrants were threatened with guns and knives and received death threats against them and their relatives.
  • Women and girl migrants are particular risk of sexual violence. Local and international NGOs and health professionals working with migrant women suggest that as many as six in ten migrant women and girls are raped -- many at the hands of state officials.
  • Many migrants are killed or disappear in Mexico. Very few of these deaths are investigated by state law enforcement and attorney generals, and federal and state authorities do not systematically gather data collection on these abuses. As a result, the families of these migrants often do not know the fate of their loved ones who've journeyed northwards.
As the Mexican government plays an increasing role in protecting its nationals in the United States, it's sadly ironic that it fails to uphold its international commitments to protect migrants within its borders. But while the Mexican authorities must make greater efforts to prevent human rights abuses against migrants, the U.S. government also bears responsibility for immigration laws and policies that push migrants to embark on these risky journeys in the first place. A more humane immigration system would enable migrants to travel lawfully and safely to the United States, respecting their dignity as human beings. In the words of a Mexican man who provides shelter and food to migrants in need,
The train carries hundreds of lives, human beings who have suffered. They leave their homes because of the extreme poverty of where they come from, the journey north is a nightmare for them but they do it for the families they have left behind.

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