Mexico uses the same methods to deal with migrants, mainly from Central America, that it opposes in the United States, human rights officials here said Wednesday. The admission comes as Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez called on Latin American countries to unite against a U.S. House of Representatives bill to toughen border enforcement.
The bill, which passed Friday with a 239-182 vote, would make illegal entry a felony, and enlist military and local police to help stop undocumented migrants. But officials of Mexico's federal Human Rights Commission said Mexico uses both measures on its own territory.
Mexico's "population law does include prison terms for illegally entering the country ... and this is something that has been the subject of constant complaints," said Mauricio Farah, a national inspector for the rights commission.
According to Article 123 of Mexico's Population Law "foreigners illegally entering the country will be subject to punishment of up to two years in prison" and fines up to 300,000 pesos (US$28,200; Ђ23,800). Such prison sentences are rarely imposed. Jose Luis Soberanes, president of the rights commission, said Mexico uses government agencies like the police and the military to detain undocumented migrants, even though Mexican law technically does not allow that.
"The only agency authorized to detain foreigners (for immigration violations) is the National Immigration Institute," Soberanes told a news conference. The commission also acknowledged that Mexico mistreats many migrants, mostly Central Americans heading to the United States, and called for improvements.
Still, Soberanes slammed another provision of the U.S. immigration bill that would build 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) of additional fences or walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, calling it "absurd." Derbez said he plans to travel to Washington on Dec. 26 to discuss the matter with Robert Zoellick, the U.S. State Department's No. 2 official.
During a regional energy summit earlier this month in Cancun, Derbez said Mexico asked the governments of Central America, Colombia and the Dominican Republic to join the fight against the proposed measures, saying "we should have one voice."
The human rights commission also presented a report on Wednesday that found overcrowding and bad conditions at about three-quarters of Mexico's 51 immigration detention centers and 68 other holding facilities.
The facilities often lack working bathrooms, blankets, sleeping mats, adequate food and medical care. Many detainees are forced to sleep on floors, and some holding areas lack the space to separate women and children, or detainees with infectious diseases, reports the AP. I.L.