(Washington, DC) – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador should reject any new proposed agreement with the United States that would lead to an increase in the summary expulsion of asylum seekers to Mexico, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President López Obrador and Mexican Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena, who is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Friday in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden and members of the US Congress are currently considering harsh new immigration measures that would contravene international human rights standards and expose thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to harm. Some of the proposed measures would require the Mexican government’s consent to be implemented.
“President López Obrador has the opportunity to stand up for the rights of thousands of vulnerable mostly Latin American migrants and asylum seekers by refusing to make yet another deal to allow the US to summarily expel people to Mexico,” said Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Mexican president should make it clear he does not intend to be complicit in US legislators’ attempts to tear apart the US asylum system.”
Congressional lawmakers have proposed harsh new immigration restrictions in exchange for their support to authorize over US$100 billion in aid funding for Ukraine and Israel, as part of negotiations over the 2024 United States federal budget.
The proposals under consideration include creating a new rule that would allow US immigration officials to expel asylum seekers without hearing their claims, similar to the now-defunct Title 42 border expulsion policy, which ended in May 2023; restricting the humanitarian parole program under which Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans have been allowed to apply for permission to travel legally to the United States; and making permanent a revamped Trump-era “transit ban” rule, requiring asylum seekers who travelled through another country on the way to the US to show proof they already applied for asylum in that country and were rejected.
Any new policy regarding the expulsion of migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico would require the participation of the Mexican government, since Mexican authorities would need to grant permission for expelled migrants to enter the country.
The López Obrador administration allowed the US to expel non-Mexican migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico beginning in 2019 under a series of agreements, including the “Remain in Mexico” program and, later, the Title 42 policy. People expelled to Mexico under these policies are routinely targeted by cartels and corrupt officials for serious abuses, including kidnapping, extortion, robbery, sexual assault, and murder. Crimes against migrants are rarely reported, investigated, or punished.
López Obrador has also intensified efforts to prevent migrants from travelling through Mexico to reach the US, including by deploying more than 32,000 soldiers for immigration enforcement and operating internal immigration check points around the country. Mexican authorities detained 686,000 migrants in 2023, the highest number ever recorded.
The rights to seek asylum and to be protected from refoulement—return to a country where a person risks persecution, torture, or other serious harm—are recognized in US and Mexican law and are core principles of international law, guaranteed by the Refugee Convention, the Convention against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Mexico has ratified all three of these instruments. The US has ratified the Convention against Torture and the ICCPR and acceded to Refugee Convention’s 1967 Protocol, which obligates it to uphold the central provisions of the Refugee Convention.
Everyone seeking international protection has the right to apply for asylum and to have their case heard before the appropriate authorities. Expelling asylum seekers without allowing them to make their claims is both unlawful and dangerous.
“These proposals would violate basic rights and further empower the criminal groups in Mexico that profit from kidnapping and extorting vulnerable migrants,” Goebertus said. “President López Obrador should prioritize Mexicans’ security and the basic rights of vulnerable migrants and make it clear Mexico will not participate in facilitating further expulsions.”