Programa Frontera Sur
In July 2014, at the United States’ urging, Mexico instituted a “Southern Border Program” (Programa Frontera Sur) to regulate migration from Central America; improve border infrastructure as a way to increase development and security; increase coordination within Mexican agencies and with Central American governments; and protect migrants and guarantee respect for their human rights.
The Coordination for Integral Attention to Migration in the Southern Border [Coordinación para la Atención Integral de la Migración en la Frontera Sur] is a decentralized administrative body of the Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB) under the Instituto Nacional de Migración [National Migration Institute] whose function is to coordinate the public servants of the Federal Executive Power in matters of migration in that area.
The Southern Border Program dramatically increased security operations and apprehensions of northbound migrants. The presence of police, military, and especially INM agents increased in Mexico’s southern border zone in 2014, following a four-month period in which US authorities apprehended 36,075 unaccompanied children, nearly all from the Northern Triangle.
The Program brought an increase in road checkpoints and Federal Police presence. Further north along the Pacific coast, as well as in Tenosique and other points near the Gulf coast, the Program also meant a concerted effort to keep migrants from traveling in vehicles and boarding “La Bestia,” the dangerous cargo trains where migrants have often been assaulted and robbed.
US support for Mexico’s southern border security has been slower to arrive than expected. In 2014 and 2015, U.S. officials announced US$90 million to help Mexico strengthen security along its southern border.17 As of January 18, 2017, Congressional Research Service reported that about US$24 million had been delivered from State Department accounts, with a smaller but additional amount coming from the Defense Department.
On September 9, 2014, Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, reported to Members of the Congress of the Union that Mexico planned to grant citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua regional visitor permits. Mexico has granted such permits since July to Guatemalans and Belizeans in order to regulate migration through its southern border, under Mexico’s Southern Border Program.
The July 2014 launch of the “Southern Border Program” was undertaken to document “who enters [the country] and for what purpose,” in an attempt to bring order to the entry into Mexico of immigrants from Belize and Guatemala, of whom about 200,000 are undocumented immigrants seeking to reach the United States in search of better living conditions. The program aimed to protect and safeguard the human rights of migrants entering and transiting through Mexico, as well as to improve the system at the international crossing to increase the development and security of the region. (Pone en Marcha el Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto el Programa Frontera Sur, Presidencia de la República website (July 7, 2014).)
Regional Visitor Cards for citizens of Guatemala and Belize are granted for free in those countries; to date more than 15,000 cards have been issued, according to Osorio. Visas for temporary workers in Guatemala are also part of the program. Mexico charges more than US$400 for tourist visas and imposes a set of requirements that the typical foreigner whose intention is to reach the United States is unable meet.
The Southern Border Program also includes a strategy to prevent undocumented immigrants from using the freight trains [to travel to the northern border with the United States], jeopardizing the immigrants’ physical integrity or even their lives. The plan involves the deployment of the police to prevent undocumented workers from climbing onto the carriage roofs of a train known as “the beast” (La Bestia), a mode of transport they choose despite being assaulted, subject to extortion by the authorities, and sometimes even killed by criminal groups, as it is one of the fastest means to go through Mexico to the United States.
To ensure the efficient operation of the program, President Peña Nieto signed a Decree creating the Office of Coordination for Comprehensive Migration Assistance at the Southern Border. The Decree was officially published in the country’s official gazette, Diario Oficial de la Federation, on July 8, 2014. (Decreto por el que se crea la Coordinación para la Atención Integral de la Migración en la Frontera Sur, DIARIO OFICIAL DE LA FEDERATION (July 8, 2014).)
First line of action: Formal and orderly crossing of the border. This measure will provide certainty regarding the temporary presence of migrants in the country; aid in the “integration among the inhabitants of our countries”; and strengthen the sharing of information among the relevant authorities. (Pone en Marcha el Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto el Programa Frontera Sur, supra.) To make the passage of temporary migrants through Mexico safe and orderly, agents of the Mexican National Institute of Migration and other authorities will safeguard the rights of the holders of the Regional Visitor Cards.
Second line of action: Border management and greater security for migrants. The southern border of Mexico must be secure for both Mexicans and migrants. To this end, the necessary infrastructure and equipment for orderly migration will be improved in an effort to ensure the smooth operation of the 12 official border crossing stations affected, ten with Guatemala and two with Belize. The custom stations will be transformed and will become Comprehensive Care Border Care Traffic Centers (Centros de Atención Integral al Tránsito Fronterizo).
Third line of action: Protection and social action on behalf of migrants. In 2013, the Mexican government put into operation five medical units in Chiapas for the care of migrants; within a year, more than 16,000 medical consultations had been provided. This line of action also includes improving conditions under which the shelters and detention centers operate, by strengthening plans of collaboration with civil society organizations that assist and protect migrants. The Mexican government will support the shelters of the National System of Integral Family Development that temporarily house migrant children, not only in the southern region, but also in the northern part of the country; these shelters have already been overwhelmed by the growing numbers of migrating children.
Fourth line of action: Regional responsibility. Mexico has taken an active role in multilateral fora on migration, such as the National Conference on Migration.
Fifth line of action: Institutional coordination. The Agency of Coordination for Comprehensive Migration Assistance at the Southern Border, which is attached to the Ministry of the Interior, will coordinate interagency efforts underway at the southern border of Mexico to achieve the stated objectives of providing care and humanitarian assistance to migrants and ensuring strict respect for their human rights.
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