Jorge Dan Lopez / Reuters Ingrid Beatriz Palacios, 19, a Honduran citizen, sits next to her two-year-old son Kevin David during a stopover on their journey to northern Mexico and then to United States. They are in southern Mexico, June 26, 2014.

Brutal Borders

Mexico's Immigration Crackdown—And How the United States Funds It

First, gang members in Honduras murdered July Elizabeth Pérez’s brother and 14-year-old son—and then they came for her. So she gathered her three surviving children and fled, hoping to find sanctuary in the United States from the relentless violence. But she didn’t make it that far. Instead, she and the children were stopped in Mexico, where they languish in a shelter. She is hardly alone. Like her, thousands have been caught up in a crackdown on migrants that is partially funded by the United States.

In the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras streamed into the United States, capturing headlines. The political response to the “crisis” (in truth, the numbers of migrants had been growing since 2011) was swift. Republicans demanded tougher border control measures and put the final nail in the coffin of already stalled efforts at bipartisan immigration reform. Washington beefed up border security and revived family detention, the routine use of which it had halted in 2009 in response to an ACLU lawsuit and public outcry against detaining children in prison-like conditions. For those in detention, the Obama administration implemented a no-bond policy, which made it very difficult for families to be released while awaiting the resolution of their asylum claims. Meanwhile, instead of following standard procedures for determining whether individual migrants qualified for asylum or other protections guaranteed under international and domestic law, Washington expedited deportations. In all of this, the message was clear: Stay out.

As the numbers of Central American migrants decreased in the fall of 2014, their plight faded from the headlines. For its part, the Obama administration attributed the ebbing tide to its aggressive enforcement efforts (some of which spawned lawsuits, including against family detention, fast-tracked deportations, and inhumane conditions in the detention centers). The administration also touted initiatives south of the border, including radio ads urging parents not to let their children flee and the introduction of an in-country refugee application process for Programa Frontera Sur (South Border Program) adopted by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto last July—and backed by millions of dollars in U.S. aid—is ostensibly aimed in part at protecting migrants, but is imperiling them instead. 

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