Guatemalan and Mexican authorities have signed an agreement to provide greater assistance to Guatemalan migrants in Baja California, Mexico.
Alejandra Gordillo, executive director of the National Council for Assistance to Guatemalan Migrants (Conamigua), estimated that upwards of 3,500 Guatemalan migrants are residing in the northern Mexican border city of Tijuana alone, virtually stranded without work or adequate economic support.
“We are interested in making the problem visible, because we’ve seen the efforts of Mexico on the southern border,” Gordillo said during a visit to Tijuana this week. “Now we want to know the problem on the northern border so we can take actions.”
Reached with the Baja California Attorney General for Human Rights, the bilateral accord proposes linking Guatemalan migrants currently in Baja California with Conamigua, for such purposes as obtaining necessary paperwork and reconnecting with families back home.
Arnulfo de Leon Lavenant, Baja California human rights ombudsman, said one issue faced by Guatemalan migrants is detention by the local police for not carrying identification, an action he judged illegal in view of the Mexican Constitution’s guarantee of the right to free transit. Healthcare is another pressing problem, he said, with his office seeing on a daily basis Guatemalan migrants who require medical treatment.
“We will continue treating the migrant as he or she deserves, as a human being with rights,” the ombudsman said.
While she was in Tijuana, Gordillo also met with the Council for Migrant Assistance in Baja California, which is headed by Carlos Mora.
In comments to the Mexican press, the Guatemalan functionary recounted the litany of abuses and dangers migrants of all ages from her country encounter on their long journey across the Mexican Republic to the United States. These include shakedowns by Mexican police, sex trafficking and even violent death. Women and children headed to the United States have disappeared en route never to be heard from again, she said.
“The worrisome thing is that the person who travels does not know the contact he or she could have with organized crime,” Gordillo added. “We have seen many cases of mass graves in which the cause of (victims’) death could not be determined. The concern persists that these are territories coopted by organized crime. It is a transnational crime of different countries that covers a circle of more countries more extensively.”
According to Gordillo, 150,000 Guatemalans migrate to the United States every year. The proportion of child migrants has risen dramatically during the last five years, she said, increasing from 1,000 children in 2009 to almost 12,000 in 2014.
Gordillo said economic motivations, family reunification, generalized insecurity and domestic violence- including cases of rape, incest and physical aggression- all help explain the migrant exodus. Additionally, immigrant smugglers, or “coyotes,” assure would-be migrants that they will be granted U.S. residency once the border is crossed, she added.
“They don’t know they could become victims of organized crime,” Gordillo said.
Meanwhile, in the first major crackdown of its kind, Guatemala’s National Civil Police this week arrested seven alleged immigrant smugglers who were said to charge $6,500 for each child transported from Central America to the United States. Interior Minister Mauricio Bonilla said the alleged leader of the smuggling ring, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, had amassed a fortune of $3 million from his illicit activities. More arrests are expected in the case. In an August 2 statement, the Obama Administration said the Guatemalan government was investigating six human trafficking rings “in coordination with U.S. officials.”
Sources: Frontera.info, August 7, 2014. Article by Guadalupe Castro. El Sol de Tijuana, August 6 and 7, 2014. Articles by Eliud Avalos Matias, EFE and editorial staff.