Thousands of people every year travel as undocumented migrants across Mexico. They carry with them the hope of a new life in the USA and an escape from the grinding poverty and insecurity back home. Yet their journey is arduous and dangerous.
Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra is a Mexican Catholic priest who has dedicated his life to providing a place of safety for migrants, away from the criminal gangs who exploit and abuse them. Because of his work, Father Solalinde has been continuously threatened and intimidated by local gangs and officials. His life is at risk.
“The biggest challenge for me to overcome is the constant intimidation, harassment and disrespect from people who don’t want me to carry out my work helping migrants. Many local authorities, criminal gangs and drug traffickers want to get rid of human rights defenders – they think we get in the way because they do not have strong values or an understanding of faith and human rights. Despite all their efforts to stop us from carrying out our work, we must continue.” Father Solalinde told Amnesty International.
Father Solalinde is the Co-ordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in South-western Mexico and Director of a migrants’ shelter in Ciudad Ixtepec, Oaxaca state, which was set up to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants who are in need of a place to rest and recuperate from their journey.
He has travelled on the network of freight trains taken by migrants heading to Mexico’s northern border. He says that doing the journey himself was the only way of finding out about the horrors migrants have to face.
On 26 February 2007, he set up the Ciudad Ixtepec migrant shelter next to the railway lines used by travelling Central Americans. Over 400 migrants slept at the shelter on that first night and the flow of people has been constant ever since.
This solidarity with migrants has provoked attacks and harassment from xenophobic members of local communities, often encouraged by criminal gangs and local officials. Father Solalinde has regularly received death threats and intimidation, and the authorities have done little to protect him, or investigate the threats against him.
The migrants' tough journey
Most undocumented migrants are from Central America and many start the perilous Mexican passage of their journey by crossing into the border states of Chiapas or Tabasco from Guatemala. Those that reach the US border will have survived one of the most dangerous journeys in the world. Thousands will fall victim to beatings, abduction, rape or even murder along the way, their lives and deaths largely hidden from view. Many of their stories will never be told.
Criminal gangs are responsible for the vast majority of crimes against undocumented migrants, but there is evidence that officials at various levels are complicit in these crimes.
Irregular migrants’ lack of legal status means that effective recourse to the justice system is denied them. This puts irregular migrants at heightened risk of abuse. Excluded from mainstream society and beyond the reach of the law, Mexico’s irregular migrants are condemned to a life on the margins, vulnerable to exploitation by criminal gangs and corrupt officials and largely ignored by many of those in authority who should be protecting them from human rights abuses.
Human rights abuses against Mexican migrants in the USA attract a great deal of public concern, and rightly so. Public outrage over the crisis facing migrants in Mexico, on the other hand, has been much more muted. However, the voices of Mexico’s undocumented migrants are at last beginning to make themselves heard.
Call on the Mexican authorities to protect undocumented migrants in Mexico