TULTITLAN, Mexico - Considered felons by the government, these migrants fear detention, rape and robbery. Police and soldiers hunt them down at railroads, bus stations and fleabag hotels. Sometimes they are deported; more often officers simply take their money.
While migrants in the United States have held huge demonstrations in recent weeks, the hundreds of thousands of undocumented Central Americans in Mexico suffer mostly in silence.
And though Mexico demands humane treatment for its citizens who migrate to the U.S., regardless of their legal status, Mexico provides few protections for migrants on its own soil. . . .
The level of brutality Central American migrants face in Mexico was apparent Monday, when police conducting a raid for undocumented migrants near a rail yard outside Mexico City shot to death a local man, apparently because his dark skin and work clothes made officers think he was a migrant.
Virginia Sanchez, who lives near the railroad tracks that carry Central Americans north to the U.S. border, said such shootings in Tultitlan are common.
“At night, you hear the gunshots, and it’s the judiciales (state police) chasing the migrants,” she said. “It’s not fair to kill these people. It’s not fair in the United States and it’s not fair here.”
“If you’re carrying any money, they take it from you — federal, state, local police, all of them,” said Carlos Lopez, a 28-year-old farmhand from Guatemala crouching in a field near the tracks in Tultitlan, waiting to climb onto a northbound freight train.
Lopez said he had been shaken down repeatedly in 15 days of traveling through Mexico.
“The soldiers were there as soon as we crossed the river,” he said. “They said, ‘You can’t cross . . . unless you leave something for us.’”
Jose Ramos, 18, of El Salvador, said the extortion occurs at every stop in Mexico, until migrants are left penniless and begging for food.
“If you’re on a bus, they pull you off and search your pockets and if you have any money, they keep it and say, ‘Get out of here,’” Ramos said.
In the United States, mostly Mexican immigrants have staged rallies pressuring Congress to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants rather than making them felons and deputizing police to deport them. The Mexican government has spoken out in support of the immigrants’ cause.
While Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal said Monday that “Mexico is a country with a clear, defined and generous policy toward migrants,” the nation of 105 million has legalized only 15,000 immigrants in the past five years, and many undocumented migrants who are detained are deported.
Although Mexico objects to U.S. authorities detaining Mexican immigrants, police and soldiers usually cause the most trouble for migrants in Mexico, even though they aren’t technically authorized to enforce immigration laws.
And while Mexicans denounce the criminalization of their citizens living without papers in the United States, Mexican law classifies undocumented immigration as a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, although deportation is more common.
None of this, of course, is any sort of argument for harsh treatment of illegal immigrants here in the United States.
But it is a demand for moral clarity. We are a better nation with a better political system than is Mexico. Mexican immigrants here need to remember that (in fact, the vast majority doubtless do). Americans faced with the rhetoric of Mexican politicians have every right to remember how little moral authority those politicians have.
Which isn’t, of course, to argue that we should craft our policy to spite Mexican officials.