Mexico Tries to Deal With Its Own Illegal Immigration Problem

The Mexican Senate has approved a new immigration measure that seeks protections of unauthorized migrants within its borders, as well as more services for them.

The bill also cracks down on undocumented immigrants in Mexico, allowing federal police to check immigration documents of people they encounter during their work, and imposing fines on employers who hire people who are illegally there.

The immigration reform measure, passed 84-to-15 by the Mexican senate, comes amid mounting international pressure for Mexico to address what many Central Americans who illegally pass through there – usually en route to the United States -- long have complained is abusive treatment by Mexican authorities.

The immigration bill also aims to control the entry, exit and transit of migrants, according to an article in

“Mexico has had just as much trouble keeping people out of Mexico who trying to make their way to the United States as the United States has had keeping illegal immigrants out,” said David Abalos, a Mexican American author of several books about Latinos. “This is Mexico’s attempt to put legal parameters around that problem.”

The measure, which is likely to go through fine-tuning in coming weeks, calls for providing migrants – regardless of their legal status – access to educational, health, legal and social services.

But in Mexico, as in the United States, plans to provide services to undocumented immigrants is drawing criticism from Mexican residents who see the move as rewarding law-breakers.

“That’s all we needed!” said a reader who posted a comment on the article about the Mexican Senate measure. “Now we’re going to have [illegal immigrants] living off our taxes. We’re already too generous, why do more?”

Wrote another: “How is it possible that we want to encourage the world to pass through Mexico? Now our borders will be inundated by immigrants from China, India, Africa, Poland, etc. – in addition to all the ones from Central and South America!”

But Mexican Senator Humberto Andrade praised the measure, saying that it would help avoid a repeat of the massacre last year of 72 migrants by suspected drug traffickers.

Officials from the migrants’ native lands – Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil – lashed out at Mexico, saying it had to do more to protect migrants within its borders from violence and abuse.

Last year, in discussing the massacre, Mexican senators said that Mexico -- the largest source of illegal immigration to the United States -- “cannot demand respect for its nationals in the United States” when it “does not assure dignified treatment” of migrants on its own turf, according to published reports.

On Tuesday, the National Human Rights Commission, or CNDH, held a presentation that revealed that more than 11,300 migrants, most from Central America, had been kidnapped and either held for ransom or conscripted into criminal gangs in Mexico between April and September of last year.

U.S. groups that favor strict immigration enforcement here often complain that Mexico, which has been very vocal in its opposition of U.S. crackdowns on illegal immigration, shows little tolerance for people who live or pass through Mexico without proper documents.

Often, stories about abuse have implied the involvement of – or enabling by – Mexican law enforcement, including those in charge of enforcing immigration laws.

“Immigrants, especially from Central America, who cross into Mexico have been robbed, sometimes by the very police – women have been sexually assaulted, people’s documents are taken from them,” Abalos said.

A Honduran man, Hector Vazquez, who had entered Mexico illegally was quoted in the Arizona Republic as saying: "There [in the United States], they'll deport you. In Mexico, they'll probably let you go, but they'll beat you up and steal everything you've got first."

Some observers of Mexico’s immigration policies say the law, if nothing else, is necessary for damage control before the international community.

“This [last year’s massacre] was embarrassing to the Mexicans,” said George W. Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary, and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors strict immigration policies. “They passed this immigration law to reduce the heat that Mexican officials are feeling from national and international organizations.”

Grayson, who often conducts research trips to Mexico and has authored several books about the country, said that Mexico lacks the kind of strong network of human rights and immigration advocacy groups that exist in the United States.

“Some human rights groups there speak [about abuse],” he said, “but there’s no real political pressure” on behalf of immigrants, particularly the undocumented in Mexico.

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