Mexico's other migrant problem
The government will soon release details of a new plan to prevent Central Americans from crossing the southern border.
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While President Calderón's first step was to create a new police task force in Chiapas, where most migrants are caught, most of the administration's initiatives have centered on better treatment for migrants. Mexico's legislature is debating changes to the immigration law, including changing the penalty for entering the country illegally to a civil violation instead of a crime punishable with jail time.Skip to next paragraph
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The National Migration Institute announced improvements to the nation's 48 detention centers and human rights training for its officials. According to a spokeswoman from the institute, they will also be releasing details of a Safe Southern Border Program to clamp down on gangs, corruption, and trafficking along the southern border.
"For the migrants that try to cross [Mexico's] national territory, we can't give less guarantees than those we demand for Mexican migrants," Cecilia Romero, the head of the migration institute, said in December.
On a recent day, Francisco Aceves, the coordinator for Grupos Beta, a government agency that helps migrants, loads up his orange pickup truck with cans of tuna and water for 100 and drives off toward the border. He scours washed out train tracks that still guide the migrants' journeys.
He says that corruption is what makes his job hardest. His group hands out pamplets to migrants, educating them on how to avoid being extorted for money. "But we are working against a very big monster," he says.
Raúl Benítez, a security expert at the Center for North American Studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, agrees. He says that corruption plagues efforts to both ease immigration and improve human rights. Often, he says, migrants pay small bribes to five or six different officials as they cross into Mexico, showing the multiple layers of the problem. "It is extortion of the migrants," Mr. Benítez says.
The number of illegal immigrants deported by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has nearly doubled since 2001.
Veronica Nur Valdes, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Homeland Security, says the US supports Calderón's resolve to seal its southern border.
Some resent what they consider as Mexico playing vigilante to the US. Carmen Fernandez, an expert of immigration studies at the College of the Southern Border in Tapachula, says that the fact that the border is so easy to pass, and yet immigrants are caught along the way reveals a motive. "It's a palpable sign that migration [policy] is for the US, not for Mexico," Ms. Fernandez says.
But Ms. Rodriguez says that increased security alone will do nothing to stop the flow – the same argument that Mexicans make against the possible US construction of a 700-mile border fence. "The more police agencies we have, the more human rights are violated," she says. "If they close the path, they'll find a more dangerous path."
That is the case with Luis Antonio Montenegro, from Nicaragua, who is making his first attempt to get into the US. He wants to go to Houston, because it's the closest big city, to work in construction, or anything he can find. Anything else. "I've worked uninterrupted since age 14 and haven't been able to do anything with it, buy own my own house or own my business," he says. "I'm afraid, but I have to persevere."