Study Sheds Light on Mistreatment of Migrants Crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border
Tags: Catholic Relief Services, Central America, CRS, immigration, immigration policy, Jesuit, Jesuit Conference, Jesuit Refugee Service, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, jesuits, JRS, KBI, Kino Border Initiative, Mexico, policy recommendations, Social and International Ministries, Society of Jesus
By Doris Yu
Apprehended while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, a young Mexican man surrenders peacefully to U.S. Border Patrol agents, but the agents violently shove him to the pavement, knee him in the back and handcuff him forcefully. His story is just one of many incidents of abuse and excessive use of force brought to light in a new study, “Documented Failures: The Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” released by the Jesuit Conference, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.
The comprehensive report details incidents of physical and verbal abuse suffered by migrants both at the hands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Mexican police, and through attacks by human traffickers, robbers and gangs. Additionally, the study highlights the stories of migrants separated from family members and those who have been sexually assaulted by criminals, left for dead in the desert and then denied medical care by U.S. border agents.
While offering humanitarian assistance and food at its Aid Center for Deported Migrants in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, KBI noted a disturbing increase in the frequency of migrants’ accounts of mistreatment. In response KBI, which is a bi-national ministry of the Jesuits, collaborated with Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and the Jesuit Conference to undertake a study documenting migrant experiences at the border and making concrete policy recommendations to U.S. and Mexican authorities. The research and analysis was funded by Catholic Relief Services of Mexico.
In an effort to persuade lawmakers to rectify the situation, the report proposes taking steps to limit family separation during the deportation process; reunite families that have mixed legal statuses and are split between the U.S. and Mexico or Central America; reduce violence against migrants in Mexico and Central America; and curb abuse by the U.S. Border Patrol and local police in Mexico.
“We, as Jesuits, because of our commitment to educating the children of migrants in our schools, serving migrant communities in our parishes and offering deported men, women and children food and shelter on the border, see firsthand the costs of our current immigration laws,” said Jesuit Father Thomas Greene, secretary for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference.
Calling for broad reform and the need for professionalism in the U.S. Border Patrol, the three organizations made policy recommendations in the report based on the analysis of data drawn from surveys that KBI conducted of migrants visiting its aid center as well as data from the Mexican government’s own Northern Border International Migration Survey. Michael Danielson, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at American University, interviewed migrants in Nogales and evaluated the survey responses for the study.
Shaina Aber, policy director for Social and International Ministries at the Jesuit Conference, attributed the uptick in turbulence in Northern Mexico and the resulting vulnerability of deported migrants in large part to an intensified drug war and lack of serious cooperation between the Mexican state and federal governments in addressing the issue of migrant safety.
“There has been a dearth of follow-up by local police for migrants who are victims of violence at the hands of criminals, which may contribute to the rising crime rate,” she explained.
Migrants from Central America brave additional difficulties crossing borders from Central America into Mexico en route to the U.S. The findings demonstrated that a growing number of migrants cite the intensifying violence in their home countries as a driving reason for immigrating to the U.S. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, and nearly 12% of Honduran migrants reported fear of violence as the primary factor underlying their choice to migrate north.
Adding to the list of grievances against U.S. border authorities, the report showed that the U.S. Border Patrol frequently denied migrants their basic right as foreign nationals to contact their consulate when apprehended, even when migrants expressly requested to do so. Furthermore, a large proportion of migrants did not contact their consulate upon being caught because they were never made aware of their right to do so, were not sure how to establish contact or did not believe it would help.
Encouraging more transparency, dialogue, and accountability on the part of U.S. authorities, Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, Executive Director of KBI in Nogales, Ariz., said, “Law enforcement agencies like CBP and ICE must take local community input into account for true security and respect for human rights to become a reality along the U.S./Mexico border.”
Added Aber, “We recommend that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol allow lawyers or NGOs to inform migrants of their rights and do “know your rights” presentations at CBP facilities.”
Urging elected officials to “place family unity, human dignity, transparency and accountability at the center of their debates,” KBI, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and the Jesuit Conference supported the U.S. Senate’s recent bipartisan efforts to improve the nation’s broken immigration system in a separate statement.
“We can and must do better,” the statement declared.
The full report may be accessed by clicking here.
A summary of the report is available here.