An impending change in U.S. border policy could put increased pressure on Mexico’s migrant detention system and lead to more reports of rights violations, migrant advocates have warned, in the wake of a fire that killed 40 people.
On May 11 the U.S. is slated to lift a COVID health order known as ‘Title 42’ that has allowed it to rapidly return migrants from the southern border back to Mexico.
That is expected to lead to a large increase in the number of migrants attempting to cross the border and the U.S. will likely then lean on Mexico for tighter migration controls such as detentions and deportations, said five policy experts consulted by Reuters.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government began ramping up detentions in 2019 under pressure from former President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration has continued that push, the experts said, as the U.S. made a record 2.2 million apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border last year, including growing numbers from countries to which the U.S. struggles to deport people, such as Venezuela and Cuba.
In 2022, Mexico detained more than 444,000 migrants, 44% more migrants than in the year before. As of last year, the National Migration Institute (INM) operated 57 detention centers with a capacity for more than 6,800 people.
“The (Biden) administration recognizes that at this point, they really need Mexico as a partner on its enforcement efforts,” said Maureen Meyer, a migration expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Now, the anticipated end of Title 42 is sparking concern from migrant advocates, who say they have already seen Mexico’s drive to keep back migrants lead to ad-hoc inconsistent practices that have fueled rights violations.
They point to the deadly fire on March 27 in a migrant detention center in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez as a warning sign.