Ongoing Challenges along the Mexico-Guatemala Border

By Morrison, Kelly | Washington Report on the Hemisphere, June 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ongoing Challenges along the Mexico-Guatemala Border


Morrison, Kelly, Washington Report on the Hemisphere


The 590-mile border separating Mexico and Guatemala is the lesser studied of Mexico's two frontiers. However, Mexico's southern border has its own share of human rights and security problems, which have not escaped the attention of regional organizations. In fact, as a result of advocacy efforts by Central American governments, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and civil society groups, Mexico reformed its policies for migrants crossing its borders by way of a new Ley de Migración in 2011. This law addresses longstanding concerns regarding the treatment of migrants, setting up a framework that prioritizes respect for the human, judicial, and legal rights of those who cross the southern border into Mexico. Still, scholars such as Laura V. González-Murphy and Rey Koslowski wonder whether the law was simply an exercise in diplomacy.

Before the reforms were passed, it had become something of a challenge for Mexico to criticize the United States' inhumane treatment of Mexican emigrants, given that Central Americans faced repeated instances of abuse - such as police brutality, rape, and other violent crimes - within Mexico's borders. For this reason, GonzálezMurphy and Koslowski feared that the law would serve merely as a rhetorical cover and, despite its implementation in 2012, would have no impact on the ground. Now that three years have gone by since this landmark reform was passed, it is time to reassess the historical context, political background, and the overall efficacy of Mexican migration strategies.

For some migrants, Mexico is merely a transit region on the way to the United States, yet about two-thirds of migrants seek refuge in the country itself. Civil wars and a variety of economic dislocations throughout Central America prompted a surge of migration into Mexico at the end of the 20th century. Guatemala is the sending country most pertinent to this discussion because of its proximity to the Mexican border and the volume of migrants the country sends north-more than 300,000 in 2012 according to the Survey on Migration at the Southern Border of Mexico. The main impetus for Guatemalan migration has been the prolonged civil war that took place from 1960-1996. During these years of violence, about one million Guatemalans were displaced, with around 200,000 fleeing to Mexico. Though the conflict officially ended with the 1996 Peace Accords, Guatemala still suffers from a weak state, rampant impunity, and internal violence, which is why migration to Mexico continues unabated to this day.

Paradoxically, past Mexican immigration policies have been extremely restrictive, given that Mexico historically has been considered a migrant-generating country. After the Mexican revolution, the 1917 Constitution included Statements of "revolutionary nationalism," and according to scholar Pablo Yankelevich, such "constitutional prohibitions set the foundation for highly restrictive immigration laws that would be used to proscribe the activity of foreigners seeking residence in the country." Later policies found in the Immigration Law of 1926 and the General Population Law of 1974 exhibited hostility verging on xenophobia. Clauses in these laws prohibited immigrants from participating in general commercial, industrial, intellectual, and artistic activities, and criminalized the act of migration by making it punishable by imprisonment.

When Mexican President Felipe Calderón was elected in August 2006, the time had come for immigration reform. During the first decade of the 21st century, human rights abuses associated with the Mexico-Guatemala border were well documented by news outlets in the United States and by international human rights bodies. These groups reported that for many women, rape was part of the price one had to pay in order to migrate, and estimated that 80 percent of women crossing the border were raped at some point in their journey. …

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