Women Risk Sexual Violence En Route to U.S.

Investigation by Maria Zamudio | Photos by Jack Jones

TENOSIQUE, Mexico — For five agonizing days, they’ve waited, collected in a shelter near the railroad tracks, near their path from a life they no longer can endure.

It’s Friday evening just before sunset when “LaBestia” (the Beast), the famous freight line that connects Mexico from north to south, finally approaches, its horn echoing a siren call.

In an instant, all those feelings of desperation and fear inside the shelter seem to melt; adrenaline takes control.

The dozens of Central American migrants huddled here, almost instinctively, grab their backpacks and run, racing alongside the tracks, grabbing at handles, holding on tightly until they climb aboard and onto the roof of the train. As each secures a spot, spectators — Tenosique locals and residents from a nearby shelter — cheer as if to celebrate a win by a local sports team.

Perched firmly atop now, the migrants — perhaps 100 men and a handful of women — acknowledge the encouragement, waving and smiling. Some snap photos with their cellphones, while others capture the moment on video.

But the exhilaration fades in just 56 miles, at the next stop in Palenque, when one of the women can’t be found.

Human-rights activists, already besieged with reports of kidnappings and sexual violence against women fleeing Central America through Mexico en route to the United States, have one more worry. They begin a search and file a police report.

“What happened to her?” they ask each other.

“Maybe she found a smuggler,” one suggests.

“I doubt it,” a shelter volunteer responds.

Palenque is a major tourist hub in the state of Chiapas but a treacherous area for migrants — especially women. Migrants disappear from this area so often the National Commission on Human Rights labels it a “dangerous zone.”

No one knows the fate of the young woman though the fear is she’s been captured and sold. Along the 1,030-mile migrant trail from the Southern Mexican border to its northern border with the U.S., women often become a commodity. Those who can’t afford to pay a smuggler, bribes to authorities or a “tax” to cartels often end up paying with their bodies or their lives.

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Aiding Central America’s “Women on the Run”

By issuing tourist and humanitarian visas to migrants, the Mexican government could begin to move past the failures of U.S.-backed border militarization.

[Jan. 7, 2016] Published on NACLA (https://nacla.org) This is the fourth and final article in NACLA’s multi-part series on migration in the Americas. (Read the other parts here [3], here [4], and here [5]).

By Gabriela Díaz Prieto and Sarah Gammage

Norma remains in a detention center in the United States where she awaits the resolution of her asylum petition. She left a neighborhood in El Salvador, controlled by the M-18 Gang, at the end of 2014. Four members of the gang kidnapped her, took her to a cemetery where they raped her and then threw her in a trashcan – all an attempt to send a message to her husband, a Salvadoran police officer. Reporting the violence only made things worse; shortly after the incident Norma and other members of her family began to receive death threats.

Without any realistic possibility of protection in El Salvador, Norma’s husband hired a coyote to help her travel through Mexico. The ultimate goal was that she might make it safely to the United States. Sadly, that journey resulted in more challenges than Norma and her family could have imagined.

The northern triangle of Central America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world [6], particularly for women like Norma. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rank first, third, and seventh, respectively, in the global index of femicides. In recent years even the political and legal space to defend the rights of women has been closing down. The Mesoamerican Initiative of Human Rights Defenders reported a doubling in attacks [7] against female human rights defenders in these countries between 2012 and 2014. These frightening figures included more than 1,600 attacks and 32 assassinations.

The escalating violence in Central America is reflected in the rising number of women crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. Not only did the number of women detained by the U.S. Border Patrol triple between 2013 and 2014 [8], but more than 68,000 families arrived [9] during fiscal year 2014 and 40,000 during 2015. Thousands of these individuals have sought asylum [10] in the U.S., though only a tiny fraction [11] have had their requests granted.

As Norma’s testimony reveals [12], family relationships are frequently central in the histories of women migrants seeking asylum [13]. With alarming repetition, these women are the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of persecuted family members. Others are the direct targets of violence, often because they have stood up to violent actors and criminal gangs in their communities. Still others flee with their children hoping to prevent their offspring’s forced recruitment into armed gangs [14].

The UNHCR, in its recent, stark report “Women on the Run [12],” provides first-hand accounts of the gravity of the crisis for women in Central America and their lack of access to humanitarian protection in Mexico. The report underscores that responding to the crisis requires coordinated, regional action to guarantee the human rights of migrants, while also contending that this action can be pursued while border security is maintained. The current situation, however, reveals that both Mexico and the United States [15] have engaged in border security investments and practices at the expense of human rights [16] – in particular, the human rights of migrants.

“Hunting Migrants”

In 2014, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rolled-out the Alliance for Prosperity [17] with the stated goal of tackling poverty, preventing violence, and providing decent work – all factors that have motivated out-migration from Central America. This Alliance is buttressed by the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America [18], which has a budget of about US$1 billion for fiscal year 2016. Although the United States, through the Central American Regional Security Initiative [19], has made more than US$640 million in security assistance available to the region since 2008, the causes of displacement and an emerging humanitarian crisis have not been well-attended, which is largely why such problems persist.

In parallel, since 2008, the United Stated has developed and implemented the Mérida Initiative [20] with Mexico. Among its four pillars, this program has sought to create a “twenty-first century border structure.” According to the Congressional Research Service [21], since 2013 the Mexican government has implemented a security plan along its southern border with the active support of the United States. This assistance includes the establishment of 12 naval bases along Mexico’s border rivers and three security cordons that stretch 161 kilometers north of Mexico’s border with Guatemala and Belize. At the same time, the United States has provided support with non-intrusive communication and inspection technologies, has trained the troops that patrol the border, and has provided greater mobility and surveillance assistance.

For fiscal year 2015, the U.S. Congress provided an additional US$79 million above the initial amount of US$115 million solicited by the Obama administration for the Mérida Initiative, with the explicit purpose of securing Mexico’s southern border. With this investment, the U.S. believes it can dissuade potential migrants and reduce irregular transit across its borders. As Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee, emphasized [22] before Congress at the beginning of July 2014, “They [Migrants] are all coming from Central America. If we can close the southern border of Mexico, that stops 99 percent of our problems here.”

From the U.S. government’s perspective the results of this collaboration [23] have been notable: in 2015, the number of Central Americans detained by U.S. Border Patrol fell by half – from 239,000 to 110,000.

Read the entire article here: https://nacla.org/news/2016/01/06/aiding-central-america-women-run

 

Detained Migrants Were Allegedly Abused

By Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

A 14-year-old Guatemalan migrant is left stranded in a wooded area in Mexico after the freight train she was traveling on had a minor derailment. Credit: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

After she arrived at an immigrant detention facility, a Guatemalan woman who sought out medical care for an ear injury and extreme pain was given a cotton ball, ear drops, and a mild painkiller. Her son, who had a severe cough which persisted for eight days, had a fever that went untreated. One six-year-old girl vomited blood for several days and was given emergency medical care only after she lost consciousness. Another eight-year-old girl regressed to breastfeeding after she stayed in detention for eight months.

These are just some of the details that five migrant women and their children are alleging in a $10 million tort claim, a precursor to a federal lawsuit seeking damages for the “abuse, neglect, and trauma” that they say they suffered at the hands of the Department of Homeland Security officials.

“By bearing witness and helping these women assert these claims, we are undermining the government’s narrative that this is a kindler [sic] gentler, detention policy,” Andrew R. Free, the Nashville, Tennessee-based lawyer representing the migrant women, told the Associated Press.

“When you consider the claims being made here, this is five clients, but they really represent the more than 3,000 folks that have been processed through these massive internment camps through this past year,” Aseem Mehta, a fellow at the immigrant advocacy group Immigrant Justice Corps, told ThinkProgress. “These five cases that were highlighted are just examples of what the government’s been doing to women and children detained, but it’s by no means unique. These are hundreds of other cases.”

Just last week, the Obama administration maintained that it should continue to detain migrant mothers and children when they cross the southern U.S. border. The administration insists that it’s already improved policies, anticipating that they would be able to release families entering in country in the future within an average of 20 days.

Advocates are skeptical about the policy change and are calling for an end to family detention altogether. “Despite their attempts to justly detain women and children, there is no way to justly do that,” Amy Fisher, the policy director at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), an advocacy organization that’s supporting the $10 million tort claim, told ThinkProgress.

An American Immigration Council report found that while the numbers of asylum claimants from Central America and Mexico have increased, both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency and immigration courts have granted asylum at low rates to people from those countries.

“If you look at a lot of the claims that are a part of these lawsuits, a 20-day period in detention is 20 days too long,” Fisher said, adding that the Obama administration’s practice of “short term” detention is insufficient. “The appropriate response would be to allow these women to come to the United States and fight their cases and seek asylum in the community so that they can have quality access to legal services, psychological treatment because they are legitimately escaping trauma, and adequate access to medical facilities.”

Still, critics say that keeping migrants in detention is a necessary policy to deter future border crossers. “Without detention, there is no immigration enforcement,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the right-leaning immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies, told ThinkProgress.

Krikorian said he hadn’t yet looked at the tort claim from the five families seeking millions in damages, so he couldn’t comment on the specific case. “I, frankly, take these claims with a grain of salt because there’s a political incentive to make these kinds of claims,” he said. “My problem is why are they in detention at all? The reason they’re in detention is because their credible fear determinations have been approved, which they shouldn’t have. This administration approves 90+ percent of credible fear determinations.”

Krikorian added that migrants shouldn’t be allowed to apply for asylum in the United States because they should have completed that process in Mexico.

However, as Georgetown Law School’s Human Rights Institute found earlier this year, Mexican immigration officials fail to adequately screen migrant children for international protection, and children often don’t know they can apply for asylum in that country.

“Passing through Mexico is often the most dangerous and difficult part of the journey and there are no protections or rule of law at the southern Mexican-Guatemalan border, which is where someone would have the opportunity to make that asylum claim,” Mehta said. “We have an international legal obligation to provide asylum rights to asylum seekers.”

This isn’t the first time that migrant women have publicly called on the DHS agency to end family detention. Ten migrant women recently lodged formal complaint claiming that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency provided inadequate medicare care when they were detained in family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. According to a 2011 ICE guidebook, immigrants should receive a “continuum of health care services, including screening, prevention, health education, diagnosis and treatment.”

from ThinkProgress (http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/08/11/3690253/10-million-tort-migrant-women-detention)