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Column 071414 Thompson

Monday, July 14, 2014


Migrant Children Brave the Perils and Plans of Mexico and the US


By Barnard R. Thompson


According to a June 19 press release from The White House, describing a telephone conversation between Presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, they discussed a regional strategy to address the influx of unaccompanied children coming from Central America, through Mexico, to the U.S.-Mexico border.  The release continues: "The President noted that the United States and Mexico can collaborate on a number of areas related to the issue, including by working together to return the children safely to their families and to build Central American capacity to receive returned individuals."


Moreover, "The President noted that Vice President Biden will attend a regional meeting in Guatemala on Friday, June 20, to discuss the urgent humanitarian issue, and welcomed the opportunity to work in close cooperation with Mexico to develop concrete proposals to address the root causes of unlawful migration from Central America."


A bulletin in Spanish regarding the same conversation, from the Los Pinos residential and workplace complex of Mexico's chief executive, said that President Peña Nieto spoke with Obama "to tackle the subject of attention and treatment of underage migrants, undocumented and unaccompanied by adults, fundamentally coming from Central America and entering (the United States) via the border with Mexico."


As to the aforementioned June 20 meeting in Guatemala, Peña Nieto agreed to send his Secretary of the Interior (Gobernación), "With the goal of designing a joint regional strategy between the United States, Mexico and the Central American nations."  At the meeting, also in attendance were the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador, plus a representative of the president of Honduras.


Skipping ahead, and without getting into the known details of the June 20 Guatemala meeting(s), it is interesting to note a couple of excerpts from Biden's remarks to the press prior to leaving Guatemala after the single day visit.


A transcript from the Office of the Vice President, dated June 20, quotes Biden:


"I've just finished, as most of you know, a day of meetings, and I would say very constructive meetings here in Guatemala.  And I wanted to speak about one issue in particular that brought me here….


"The United States, to state the obvious, is greatly concerned by the startling number of unaccompanied minors that – children and teenagers who are making a very perilous journey through Central America to reach the United States.  These are some of the most vulnerable migrants that ever attempt – and many from around the world attempt – to come to the United States.  They're among the most vulnerable.  And the majority of these individuals rely – we estimate between 75 and 80 percent – rely on very dangerous, not-nice, human-smuggling networks that transport them through Central America and Mexico to the United States."


Moving to the conclusion of his statement, Biden says: "To my great – how can I say it?  To my great relief and thanks, (the leaders of Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Honduras) all agreed to take on specific responsibilities that will help us solve this problem.  We anticipate they will keep those responsibilities because we're devoting significant resources to this effort.  And following these meetings, we're looking to see what more we can do.  We've agreed to all stay in contact.  And God willing, we can solve this together."


Okay, so hope – and spin – spring eternal.


However, the reality is that all of the governments involved – those in Central America and the United States – have done little if anything meaningful to unravel and resolve matters related to unaccompanied migrant children.  And while Mexico is supposedly taking steps to do its part to work with others and solve the problems, too many indications are that it will do virtually nothing – or inaction practices will continue.


Additionally, to quote Mexican columnist Martín Espinosa (Excélsior): "The fact is that Mexico does not have an immigration policy aimed at tackling the problem thoroughly."


President Peña Nieto inaugurated his new Southern Border Program on July 7, during a visit to the State of Chiapas.  A joint program with Guatemala, that nation's president, Otto Pérez Molina, joined Peña Nieto along with federal plus regional state and local officials.


According to media accounts, Peña Nieto said that Mexico is convinced migration is a phenomenon that must be addressed from a regional, joint responsibility and human perspective.  Furthermore, he pointed out that over the past few decades the Mexico-Guatemala boundary has recorded significant increases in the number of people crossing the border, adding that people doing so "irregularly" risk not only their liberty and physical integrity, but too their lives.


In particular, he cited the issue of unaccompanied children – a situation that deserves the "urgent and jointly responsible" attention of all nations, he said.  (La Jornada, July 8, 2014)


Speaking specifically about the Southern Border Program, he said that the program has two objectives, and five key components.


First of all, it seeks to protect and safeguard the human rights of migrants that enter and transit Mexico.  Second, it is to bring order to the international ports of entry in order to increase regional development and security.


The five action lines: formal and orderly crossings; greater security; protection and social action in favor of the migrants; shared regional responsibility; and inter-institutional coordination.


The accord is designed to make it easier and safer for northbound migrants, which it would seem includes unaccompanied minors, to enter and travel in Mexico, however no provisions were detailed as to required entry documents.  This with the exception of two newly created temporary visitor documents.


With simplified application procedures, Mexico will soon issue a Visiting Border Worker's Card, a temporary labor permit for Guatemalan (and possibly Belizean) workers in Mexico's southern states.  As well, a Regional Visitor Card will be issued for travel of up to 72 hours to the four states.  The same privileges are expected soon for nationals from El Salvador and Honduras.


Apart from the prima facie regional travel limits, what the plan does not say is anything about use of the new documents and system for adults or minors who seek to go farther north, crossing Mexico in order to get to the United States where proper entry is illegal without requisite documents and formal approvals.


The Southern Border Program is be run by Mexico's Interior Ministry, the states of Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Tabasco, and a new "Coordination for the Integral Attention of Migration on the Southern Border," to be led by an Interior Ministry appointed administrator.


On July 8, 2014, Mexico published two edicts in the Official Daily of the Federation addressing some of the migrant related issues.


A presidential decree, creating a "Coordination for the Integral Attention of Migration on the Southern Border," deals with migration in Mexico and public policies that will "lead to sustainable solutions in order to facilitate an adequate flow of persons to the interior of national territory."


Another of its points: "Whereas, the national goal of the 2013-2018 National Development Plan, titled 'Mexico with Global Responsibility,' seeks 'to guarantee the rights of migrants, asylum applicants, refugees and beneficiaries of complimentary protection.  This includes design and execution of special attention for vulnerable groups of migrants, such as girls, boys and adolescents, pregnant women, victims of serious crimes, handicapped persons and seniors.'"


It mentions Mexico's 2014-2018 National Security Program that was published earlier this year, which includes the Integral Strategy for Attention to the Southern Border, "a mechanism … to strengthen the presence of (government) officials in the area and to coordinate actions with Central American countries in order to overcome common challenges to security and development, and to advance with the establishment of a more modern, efficient, prosperous and secure border."


As well, it calls upon authorities in Mexico's four states along the southern border, Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Tabasco, "to work together to bring about effective actions to guarantee an adequate flow of people to the interior of national territory."


All of which, apart from commendable goals to better respect human rights and insuring the safe transit of travelers, would seem to be more concerned with allowing migrants to venture north than with stopping the flow of United States-bound undocumented immigrants, including unaccompanied children – many led north by unscrupulous human traffickers.


The second publication of July 8 is an Agreement regarding Integral Border Transit Attention Centers, in order to institutionally better coordinate the inspection of people and goods at said locations.  Checkpoints that will be manned by officials of the Interior; National Defense; Navy; Finance and Public Credit; Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food; and Health ministries.


Here the scary part is that Mexico's immigration and customs checkpoints have been sites of corruption for times beyond recall.  Plus today, traffickers, organized crime organizations and violent gangs are too often shadowy linked in one way or another to these stations, officials and activities.  So, just who might benefit from new, added or altered Attention Centers?


A representative of Mexico's Supreme Court, according to a news report in La Jornada (July 8), said that "it is incumbent (on the Mexican government) to grant a minimum standard of rights" to every foreigner in Mexico.  Arturo Pueblita Pelisio, secretary to the Court's presidency, "added that the protection of foreigners 'represents one of the greatest challenges regarding human rights' … (and) the international protection of individual guarantees concerns all of the country's authorities."  Pueblita also said that all Mexican authorities must respect and guarantee the rights of migrants.


With respect to unaccompanied migrant children, Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade said the following during a press conference, in Mexico City (El Universal, July 10): "Mexico does not foresee a review of its refuge policy, because in the midst of  this humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minor migrants no increase in applications has been noticed."


Secretary Meade was asked what Mexico's response would be to the United Nations that has called on Mexico and the United States to designate these children and adolescents as refugees – and thus provide this international protection as they flee violence in their countries?  He answered, "Mexico has specific (means) in order to take care of the applications, doing a careful assessment of each, and this attends to a review, in all cases, of the merits of the individual applications."


As for Mexico's powerful Secretary of the Interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, at a July 9 meeting in Guatemala City he called for the application of a global public policy on the subject of irregular migration, through the gathering of the nations involved.  "Migratory policy is not set from one country, but by the countries that have an interest in resolving the problems, fighting the interests created by organized crime, and attending to the human rights of the children," he said.  (Notimex, July 9)


United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson also attended the latest Guatemala City meeting, and the following three paragraphs are excerpted from the applicable DHS press release (July 9).


"Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson concluded a two-day trip to Guatemala where he participated in meetings with the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico to discuss issues of mutual concern, including steps to improve the regional response to the influx of adults traveling with children and unaccompanied children across the U.S. southwest border.


"While in Guatemala City, Secretary Johnson met with President Otto Fernando Pérez Molina. During the meeting, Secretary Johnson reaffirmed DHS's commitment to partnering with our Central American counterparts to stem the flow of adults with children and unaccompanied children entering the United States, to address the root causes of the influx, and to expand the capacity of these countries to receive and reintegrate repatriated migrants. Secretary Johnson also highlighted the steps the Administration is taking to improve enforcement and partnering with our Central American counterparts in three key areas: combating gang violence and strengthening citizen security, spurring economic development, and improving capacity to receive and reintegrate returned adults with children and unaccompanied children.


"Today Secretary Johnson met trilaterally for the first time with Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, Guatemalan Minister of Interior Héctor Mauricio López Bonilla, and Mexican Secretary of Interior Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong. The counterparts discussed a cooperative regional strategy and ongoing efforts to secure the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Secretary Johnson reaffirmed the United States' intent to continue working together with Mexico and Guatemala to take action against networks spreading disinformation about the journey to the United States and the legal process, and to combat and dismantle human smuggling networks. During their meeting, Secretary Johnson reiterated that the long journey is not only dangerous; there are no 'permisos,' 'permits,' or free passes at the end."


Still, with all of the steps supposedly being taken to unite in order to solve the migrant and unaccompanied minors' problems, which have been going on for a far longer period of time than just the past few weeks in headline news, many observers note that concrete work on real solutions, and results, remain to be seen.


This as President Obama laments the "humanitarian crisis," while at the same time being less than engaged and largely responsible for politicizing the issue.


In Mexico, it's hard to imagine the related plans and programs of President Peña Nieto accomplishing his goals and not becoming part of an often corrupt bureaucratic quagmire.


While in Central America it appears to be politics as usual, with crime, gang actions and violence continuing to escalate at record paces.



Barnard Thompson, editor of, has spent 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.

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