Invisible and Vulnerable Migrants

By Carolina Villadiego Burbano*

 

Every day hundreds of people migrate through Latin America to reach the United States. On their way, there are victims of racism, xenophobia, sexual exploitation, crime, corruption, discrimination and indolence. This is a paradoxical situation for a region that complains so much about the discrimination that its own citizens suffer when they migrate, legally or illegally, to countries in the North. In route, these migrants are treated as invisible and confront retrograde migration policies.

This is the situation of hundreds of children from Central America who walk alone through Mesoamerica to reach the United States. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, they are fleeing their countries because they are victims of violence, they want to escape the gangs, their parents are absent (many are trying to reunite with them), or they do not want to be sexually abused. During their journey through the region, their situation becomes more precarious: they are chased by organized crime and “coyotes,” made to do forced labor, and, sometimes, are victims of police abuse. On top of this, when they reach the United States, many are detained and deported.

Source: IACHR, (2015). Situation of human rights of families and unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in the United States of America.

Source: IACHR, (2015). Situation of human rights of families and unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in the United States of America.

But this is also the situation of hundreds of people arriving in Brazil, Ecuador, or Colombia from Africa, in order to continue their journey to the United States. They pay large sums of money to travel to our continent, and upon arrival, face racism. They seek refuge in this part of the world because the political and humanitarian situation is deteriorating in several African countries. However, in our region, they face regressive migration policies, as various countries close their borders and obstruct their movement North.

Hatian migrants arriving in Panama. Photo from Prensa.com

Hatian migrants arriving in Panama. Photo from Prensa.com

Hundreds of Cubans face a similar situation trying to make use of the Cuban Adjustment Act in the United States, as they fear that the United States will repeal the law due to the reinstatement of diplomatic relations with Cuba. For this reason, the movmeent of Cubans through Central America increased in recent months. But rather than using this situation as an opportunity to create more humane migration policies in Central America, several countries responded by closing their land borders and requesting that the United States repeal the law.

Cuban migrants arrive in Ecuador. Photo from Univision.com

Cuban migrants arrive in Ecuador. Photo from Univision.com

All of these stories have three things in common: (1) the majority of migrants leave their home countries because they are fleeing from unstable social or political situations; (2) they are invisible in the Latin American countries through which they travel; and (3) they face reactionary migration policies in this continent. Moreover, many die along the Southern border of the United States, according to the International Organization for Migration.

This is why we need inclusive and non-discriminatory migration policies in Latin America. Countries cannot respond with regressive policies, closing borders, and massive deportations. Rather, they should respond with comprehensive public policies that include the possibility to regularize migrants’ status, as Argentina has done. They should also develop programs and provide adequate economic resources to guarantee the lives and integrity of migrants. They should also have good infrastructure in their border areas (quality shelters, food, health services, among others), as many migrants wish to continue on their journey.

This situation is another reason to save the Inter-American human rights system. Not only because the Commission and the Court promote standards to guarantee the rights of migrants in the region, but also because this issue must be addressed with a multilateral approach based on human rights.

 

*Carolina Villadiego Burbano is a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia).