MEXICO CITY – The Interior Ministry fired seven top officials in charge of immigration matters in regions where the abduction of undocumented migrants by organized gangs has been rampant and local officials increasingly are being implicated as complicit in the crimes.
The ministry said in a May 12 statement that National Immigration Institute employees in seven states with a large northward flow of undocumented migrants would be subjected to additional screening and oversight.
The move follows revelations from judicial and human rights officials that immigration officers allegedly hand over migrants to criminal groups, who then demand ransoms from the victims’ relatives.
Catholics working with undocumented migrants welcomed the decision but also expressed skepticism with the timing.
“We’ve been telling them about this for a long time,” Father Jose Alejandro Solalinde, director of the Brothers of the Road migrant shelter in Oaxaca state, told Radio Formula.
“They accept it when it’s evident, when they can no longer hide it,” he said.
Alberto Xicotencatl, director of Belen Inn of the Migrants shelter in the northern city of Saltillo, questioned if the move was a true attempt to purge a corrupted immigration department or an attempt by the Mexican government to appear to be pro-active in advance of a summer visit by inspectors from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“The timing appears coincidental,” Xicotencatl said.
Advocates for migrants have complained about the work of state-level immigration directors, who Xicotencatl said often rule by fiat instead of adhering to the law.
“The attitude by directors toward human rights often leaves something to be desired,” he said.
The mistreatment of undocumented migrants transiting the country has been common in Mexico for more than a decade, but worsened in recent years as criminal groups such as Los Zetas have moved in on the human trafficking business.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission reported that 11,333 migrants were kidnapped over a six-month period in 2010 and alleged the public officials were often complicit.
The commission announced May 12 that it will investigate the seven fired state directors for alleged links to Los Zetas, Mexican media reported.
The attorney general’s office confirmed the arraignment of six immigration officers in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, who kidnapped migrants allege were complicit in their abductions.
Meanwhile, threats against Catholic-run migrant shelters have continued, Xicotencatl said. The most recent case occurred in Piedras Negras, which borders Eagle Pass, Texas, where gunmen arrived May 9 at the Dignified Border shelter and ordered the facility to close.
A shelter employee was forced into an SUV at gunpoint, had his head covered with a sack and was threatened, according to a bulletin released by Amnesty International.
Attempts to reach the shelter and a spokesman for the Diocese of Piedras Negras were unsuccessful.