Federal Police and the National Guard

Retraumatization Series: Blog 1
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When Central American migrants enter Mexico, one might hope that local authorities would provide some safety along their journey. Governmental institutions theoretically operate according to standards of treatment and “respect for human rights,” particularly when it comes to migrants. However, this government mission to treat people with dignity is often violated once the federal police and national guard are out in the field.

Similarly, the mission statement of the Federal Police, of the National Guard of Mexico believes that it is important to:

  1. Safeguard life, integrity, security, goods and rights of the people, along with preserving their liberties.
  2. Contribute to the generation and preservation of the public order and social peace.
  3. Safeguard the goods and resources of the nation.
  4. Participate in the collaboration and coordination with federal entities and municipalities.

While both of these governmental entities take pride in doing all that is possible to maintain the wellbeing of their country, many migrants we interviewed described the opposite.

For instance, “N” a 28-year-old male migrant from El Salvador recounted how he would not want his family to travel and take the same route he did, because it was too dangerous, and the police did a poor job at providing safety. He explained:

El camino en que tu vienes …hay muchos policías… que cuando tu vienes…la policía de México casi todos son corruptos. Ellos te ven, se te quedan viendo, y si ellos tienen sospecha que eres inmigrante, te paran, te quitan lo que tienes.

On the path that you take … there are many policemen… when you are on your way … the Mexican police are almost all corrupt. They see you, they watch you, and if they suspect that you are a migrant, they stop you, they take what you have.

– N, 28-year-old man from El Salvador

“N’s” encounter with the police is similar to the encounters that other migrants had. Not only was being harassed by the police retraumatizing but it made migrants distrust Mexican officials.

“M,” a 21-year-old female from Honduras, was interviewed at the shelter Ejercito de Salvación. Her decision to leave her home country was influenced by the lack of support she received from her family members throughout her pregnancy. Along her way through Mexico she had encounters with governmental officials who exploited her and physically abused her. The following quote is illustrates the treatment she received from government officials:

Bueno tuvimos problemas, allí en Arriaga, en la marina … me trataron muy mal, este, llegó otro de la federal. Me golpeó, me quería quitar mis documentos, que le pagara $2,000 (pesos) para que yo procesalmente que viniera.

Well we had problems, there in Arriaga, the Mexican marines … they treated me very badly, and an agent from the federal police arrived. He hit me, he wanted to take my documents, he wanted me to pay $2,000 (pesos) so that I could continue with my journey.

– M, 21-year-old woman from Honduras

M’s vivid depiction highlights her shock and disbelief at being beaten and asked for money by Mexican authorities to continue on her journey. Not only is it surprising, but it serves as example to show how corrupt the officials are.

“A,” a 47-year-old male who was also from Honduras, shared that he has dealt with discrimination since living in his home country due to his identity as an indigenous man from the Garifuna community. He felt that his identity as an indigenous man amplified the stigma he faced in his journey through Mexico. Throughout his interview, he shared that he was constantly confused for being a “pollero” – a smuggler, and that immigration officials would ask for his documents to determine where he was from. This constant occurrence made him feel vulnerable and persecuted by immigration officials. He described:

Mire, me siento perseguido, me siento discriminado, me siento – o sea – vulnerable a los ojos de cualquiera gente policía inmigración lo que sea.

Look I feel persecuted, I feel discriminated against, I feel – I mean – I feel vulnerable in the eyes of any people from the police or immigration or whatever.

– A, 47-year-old man from Honduras

A’s reaction to immigration officials had not been easy and had put him in vulnerable positions several times. The treatment he received has caused him a lot fear, distrust, and stress throughout his journey.

In sum, all three of these examples show a recurring themes of being taken advantage of by Mexican officials. Indeed, in most of the interviews we conducted with asylum seekers, they described being exposed to this type of treatment. Things were especially bad at cities on or near the border between Guatemala and Mexico such as Tapachula, Ciudad Hidalgo, and Ciudad Tecún Uman. These tend to be places where the Policia Federal and the Guardia Nacional concentrate to block immigration flows coming from the south.

The police in such cities are aware that migrants are desperate to cross through Mexico so they can attempt to reach the United States. Many migrants travel with little money – barely enough to feed themselves and their family members. Even though money is constantly confiscated by officials, governments also sometimes seize migrants’ documents, including evidence for their asylum cases. These quotes emphasize the extent to which the police take advantage of migrants and their vulnerability. They highlight the fear that migrants experience towards Mexican law enforcement as an institution.

Among the people that I had the chance to interview at the Casa del Migrante, many them had discriminatory and tense encounters with either the Policia Federal and Guardia Nacional. Most of the time it occurred when they were traveling on a bus from city to city in Mexico. Typically, they were asked to show a form of identification that would verify that they were legally traveling through Mexico. It was in instances like these that police would often ask for money, especially if the migrant did not have proper documentation. Speaking to a number of migrants showed us that interaction with the Federal Police and National Guard is common, and that their lack of work ethic, corruption and lack of respect contributes to the retraumatization of migrants.

Both the Federal Police and the National Guard represent the Mexican government. However, the behavior adopted by officials in these agencies contradicts their mission statements to enforce the safety of the country. The act of stealing and discriminating against migrants from Central America or any other foreign country condones violence and does not promote the human rights of migrants. Most importantly, the behavior of the police adds to the trauma that migrants experience throughout their journey to the US-Mexico border.