Mexican Senate OKs bill to let migrants file abuse complaints regardless of immigration status

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's Senate passed a bill Thursday that would allow undocumented migrants to file complaints about abuses and receive medical treatment without being questioned about their immigration status.

Currently, Mexican law allows only people who are legally in the country to file such complaints with police and other agencies, and hospitals and other institutions are permitted to ask people for proof of legal migratory status.

The bill, adopted on a 79-0 vote in the Senate, already passed the lower house of Congress and now goes to President Felipe Calderon for final consideration.

Last month's massacre of 72 mainly Central American migrants by gunmen apparently linked to a drug gang sparked calls to better protect migrants from kidnapping and abuse as they cross Mexico in a bid to reach the United States.

But the legislation already was before Congress, and passed the lower house several months before the killings.

The measure is part of a series of reforms to Mexico's formerly tough immigration laws, which in some cases compared unfavorably to U.S. policies that Mexico often complains about.

For example, Mexico has hotly opposed U.S. policies that would allow law enforcement agencies to routinely question people about their immigration status. The bill passed Thursday says Mexican government employees "will not be required to advise" immigration authorities about the status of the people they have contact with.

In 2008, Mexico removed criminal penalties for being in the country illegally. Undocumented migration is now a minor offense punishable by fines. Previously, the punishment ranged from 1½ to 10 years in prison, though that was seldom enforced and most migrants — then and now — are simply deported.

Tens of thousands of Central Americans cross through Mexico each year in an attempt to get into the United States, but many report being robbed, assaulted or shaken down for money, sometimes by police or immigrant traffickers.