Mexico’s Supreme Court Bans ‘Random’ Immigration Checks

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A Mexican Marine orders a group of migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan off a bus at an immigration checkpoint outside the town of Viva Mexico, near Tapachula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, June 21, 2019.
© 2019 AP Photo/Oliver de Ros

Mexico’s Supreme Court reached a landmark ruling last week, overturning a legal provision allowing immigration agents to stop anyone and demand proof of their legal status. The ruling came after years of litigation by human rights groups and could have a profound impact on Mexico’s enforcement-heavy immigration policy, driven by pressure from the US to stop migrants from reaching the border.

The court ruled in favor of members of an Indigenous Tzeltal Maya family who had been wrongfully detained and, in one case, tortured by immigration agents who suspected they were undocumented Guatemalan migrants trying to reach the US. The three siblings, Amy, Esther, and Alberto were traveling on a bus from their home in Chiapas state in Mexico’s south to work as farmhands in the north. It is common for people from Mexico’s poorer south to travel to the wealthier north for work.

When the bus reached a checkpoint, immigration agents said the siblings, who speak limited Spanish, “didn’t look Mexican.” They showed IDs but the agents called the IDs “fake” and sent the siblings to detention. There, agents beat Alberto and gave him electric shocks until he signed papers – even though he cannot read or write – agreeing to be deported to Guatemala.

Immigration stops and checkpoints have become common across Mexico. Soldiers and immigration agents board buses, pull over cars, stop people in airports, raid hotels, and patrol parks and plazas to apprehend undocumented migrants. Usually, they target people who are Black, brown, or Indigenous. That often includes Indigenous Mexicans or Afro-Mexicans who are frequently detained, harassed, or even wrongfully deported.

The court said current immigration law violates the constitutional rights to equality and nondiscrimination, as it had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Afro-Mexican people, due to the lack of objective criteria to determine who should be screened, which allowed agents to conduct the checks based on ethnicity, skin color, or language. It also found the law violates the constitutional right to free movement which it said should allow anyone to travel through Mexico without an ID, regardless of nationality. Congress must now amend the law.

The US leans heavily on Mexico to stop migrants reaching the border. Immigration stops and checkpoints have been a key tool in accomplishing that. They have also led to serious abuses against Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. Banning them is a human rights victory we should celebrate.

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