Mexico deported a historic number of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America in a five-month period beginning last fall, according to a data analysis released by the Pew Research Center on Tuesday.
The country issued 3,819 deportations of unaccompanied Central American minors from October to February — a 56 percent increase compared with the same period last year.
The rise in deportations could be a sign that Mexico is serious about regulating its southern border. After tens of thousands of migrant kids arrived at the U.S. border last summer, the country's secretary of the interior, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, told The New York Times that Mexico wanted "absolute control" of its border with Guatemala.
The amped-up enforcement could help the United States avoid another humanitarian crisis in South Texas this summer, but it might have a secondary side effect: trapping children with legitimate asylum claims in violence-plagued countries such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
A report by students at the Georgetown Law School earlier this month found that unaccompanied Central American children can face significant obstacles to seeking asylum in Mexico.
Unaccompanied children are systematically detained in Mexico and can be subject to lengthy and unpredictable waits in detention, which could discourage them from applying for asylum, researchers found. The conditions of the detention facilities can also make children less likely to move forward with a claim, according to the report.
A fifteen-year-old boy interviewed for the report described Estación Migratoria Siglo XXI — Mexico's largest detention facility — as "an awful place" (researchers were not granted access and could not assess the conditions).
"People are crammed, it’s very hot, the food is terrible, and it’s dangerous for us teenagers because they put us together with maras (Central American gang members),” the boy said of the 990-person facility, located in the city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border.
The Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately return a request for comment.
Lindsey Keiser, a Georgetown Law student and coauthor of child migrant report, said another concern is that Central American children are not always informed of their right to seek asylum in the country.
"Mexico is at a risk for denying protection to children who need it," she said.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.