Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are accusing Mexico of cultivating an increasingly militarized migration policy, arguing the country deploys a disproportionate share of its military compared to conventional migration agents as President López Obrador continues to hand more tasks to the armed forces.
A report presented by six organizations working toward the protection of human rights showed that many migrant arrests were carried out by military elements and arbitrarily based on racial profiling. Furthermore, sexual abuses have been committed during these arrests, primarily against women.
In 2018, President López Obrador said his government would refrain from criminalizing and persecuting migration, assuring that it would opt for a humanitarian policy with which Mexico would stop being a filter for migrants between Central America and the US. Nevertheless, after four years in power, the policies applied during his term prove to be conflicting.
Mexico’s tendency toward militarization has been observed since the US presidency of Donald Trump, whose pressure throughout 2019 toward the Mexican government accelerated the deployment of National Guard (GN) convoys to control migration. By law, the military should only assist and not carry out arrests.
Although legally speaking, the GN and the National Migration Institute (INM) are allowed to inspect the documents of foreigners to verify their migration status and, if necessary, detain them, this mandate opposes the obligations the country has to protect said migrants. NGOs continue to question the approach because it criminalizes migration and leaves its management in the hands of a public security institution. In many cases, people are arrested without having the guarantee that they will receive a due legal process. Migrants may see their right to consular assistance waived or are unable to file for international protection as a refugee, say the organizations.
This militarization process intensified with the appointment of military members at strategic INM positions. The NGOs decry a lack of clarity and contradictions regarding arrests, referred to as “rescues” or “presentations” by the authorities. What is more, numbers published by armed forces on the arrests are times 10 times higher than those provided by INM.
Further data obtained shows that between June 2019 and Dec. 2020, the armed forces and the GN arrested over 152,000 people at the country’s southern border. According to data from the INM, around 190,000 migrants were apprehended in that same period.
The NGOs therefore combined resources to condemn the practices. A statement from the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) regarding topics linked to the GN is still pending. Since the beginning of López Obrador’s administration, Mexico’s military was granted more power, as the president argues corruption is less of an issue with the country’s armed forces. Currently, the military oversees the construction of major infrastructure projects, customs controls, the distribution of medicine and migration issues.
In Aug. 2021, Minister of Defense Luis Cresencio Sandoval said in an ambiguous statement that the military’s main goal was to stop all migration and protect the northern and southern borders. According to Sandoval, around 14,000 armed forces personnel were stationed in Guatemala, Belize and even the Isthmus of Tehuantepec at that moment.
The US Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, defended Mexico’s policy and said that control of the southern border and the Isthmus is the key to solving the migration crisis and improve security. It is easier to control a 300km stretch of land than the US-Mexican border, which spans over 3.000km, he added.