Flavio Bravo ’19 writes about his time in Mexico as a Migration & Human Rights Intern during Summer 2018.
After initially studying abroad with seven other members of my cohort at la Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, I was able to continue my time in Mexico through USF’s Arrupe Fellowship Fund, which gave me the financial support to develop my research as a Migration & Human Rights Intern at the Instituto de Derechos Humanos Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. (IDHIE) in Cholula, Puebla.
Upon my arrival to Puebla in early June, I quickly learned about the significance of the state’s geographic location in Eastern Central Mexico. Bordering the states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, one of the main responsibilities of the IDHIE team is to analyze human rights abuses against migrants who cross Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala and Belize. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, I know firsthand that conversations on immigration in the U.S. are primarily focused on relations along the U.S-Mexico border. But what people often forget to consider is the United States’ historical methods of intervention, depleting and destroying communities worldwide and ultimately creating push factors for migrants to come to the U.S. after fleeing violence and turmoil in their home countries.
As a part of the migration team within the IDHIE, I assisted by analyzing and recording data from a series of interviews of majority Central American migrants who were detained in Mexican migration centers in Puebla and Tlaxcala. Mexican detention of unauthorized migrants is not a new practice. But it has dramatically increased over the last few years.
In 2014, for the first time, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection witnessed more unaccompanied children from Central America arrive to the U.S. border than those from Mexico. Unsure of how to respond to what President Obama publicly referred to as an “urgent humanitarian situation,” a historic meeting was held between Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Less than two weeks later, Mexico’s “Programa Frontera Sur” or the Southern Border Plan was announced. It was presented with three central commitments, one of which was to protect the rights of migrants and refugees who enter Mexico. What has mostly occurred is the greater militarization of Mexico’s southern border. Further, it has largely been U.S. taxpayers that have provided Mexico with this funding, to the tune of $2.6 billion between 2008-2016.
Mexican officials began implementing raids and arresting undocumented Central American migrants en route to the U.S. As a part of the IDHIE team, we requested every legal resolution from Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Migración from 2017 that dealt with a migrant who was detained and ultimately released from migration centers in Puebla and Tlaxcala. The goal of obtaining these resolutions was to better understand the treatment of migrants detained in these centers by comparing the resolutions with the personal migrant interviews previously conducted. No one can imagine how taken aback we became when three large boxes of files finally arrived. Despite containing what appeared to be over 1,270 resolutions shipped to our office, we soon realized that just around 800 were distinct and unique documents. The remaining 470 were complete duplicates. Whether it was manipulative in order to simulate transparency or just outright negligence, we saw first-hand how the Mexican government simply did not prioritize the rights of migrants.
Further, almost every personal testimony was blacked out on the legal resolutions, when only the names of migrants are supposed to be withheld. Regardless of how one considers the legality to migrate, a migrant is sure to know the physical and legal risks inherent to the U.S. government actively working against their basic human right to survive. Yet, these redacted testimonies and unorganized efforts demonstrate that the Mexican government is also shirking its duty to protect those refugees they initially acknowledged when they implemented Programa Frontera Sur with the financial backing of the United States.
But what did remain legible from every resolution was the national origin of each detained migrant. By far, the majority of those detained and deported were from the Central American Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Some were even Mexican citizens who were wrongly deported after being unable to provide requested documentation.
Beyond my participation assisting with the migration research team, perhaps my day-to-day conversations with others in the IDHIE were the most impactful. As a U.S. citizen living abroad during the Trump administration, countless faculty and staff members at the university and within the greater Cholula community regularly asked me what was occurring in the U.S. as far as family separation at the border and how it could be justified. While it is common knowledge that the current U.S. administration has little regard for upholding the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, what I witnessed this summer was the Mexican government also completely ignore its responsibilities.
With my internship experience now at an end, I’ve returned to San Francisco for my second and final year in the graduate program. My internship with the IDHIE might be over, but its namesake and mission remain on my mind. Named after the former president of the University of Central America in San Salvador, Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. was one of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador who was killed for speaking out in defense of the oppressed and for being a strong proponent of liberation theology. In his 1982 commencement address at Santa Clara University, Ellacuría urged graduates to “do everything possible so that liberty is victorious over oppression, justice over injustice, love over hate.”
In honor of this lifelong commitment, the IDHIE lives out Ellacuria’s legacy by working to defend the rights of the most vulnerable across Mexico, with a specific focus on the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala. Among other areas, the IDHIE advocates and focuses on migration, the treatment and trafficking of persons, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of indigenous communities.
I remain convinced that our entire world, but especially the U.S. and Mexico, would be much better off if we listened and responded justly to the unnecessary pain and suffering of people that leaders like Ellacuría spent a lifetime defending.