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Over the last two decades, Mexico has enacted multiple domestic programs and international initiatives to manage the movement of migrants and illicit goods across its southern border states. In July 2014, Mexico launched its most recent major initiative, the Southern Border Program(Programa Frontera Sur), amid the arrival of an unprecedented number of Central American minors traveling through Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border. This report provides an analysis of Mexico’s Southern Border Program, setting it within a historical context, describing the program and its consequences, and examining its legacy. The Southern Border Program had two stated objectives: 1) protect migrants who entered Mexico, and 2) manage migration with the aim of promoting security and prosperity in the country’ southern border states. In practice, the government focused its resources on achieving the second goal, boosting the numbers of apprehensions and deportations throughout the region. The Southern Border Program also affected Central Americans’ security in their journey to the United States. As Mexico increased its enforcement operations, the number and rate of crimes against migrants rose.
Migrants also changed how they traveled through Mexico, shifting to more remote routes, relying more heavily on paid guides to help them on their journey, and abandoning traditional forms of transportation, such as the train known as La Bestia. Previous studies have formed conclusions about the Southern Border Program from anecdotes an draw numbers. This report sought to determine if the sharp rise in operations, apprehensions, personnel, and crimes against migrants during the program’s peak was entirely the result of the program’s policies, or if these numbers had also increased proportionally to the growing number of Central Americans migrating through Mexico. To examine this question, the authors developed a model to estimate the number of Central American migrants leaving their home countries for Mexico and the United States. Ultimately, the model found that enforcement levels and other developments appear to be due to factors beyond evolving migration patterns.
Though Mexican government documents indicate that the Southern Border Program still exists, many of its most prominent features generally lasted only a year or two at most. Since 2015, operations and apprehensions have declined to approximately pre-Southern Border Program levels. Crimes against migrants have also dropped, suggesting an inverse relationship between enforcement operations and migrant safety. Meanwhile, other effects of the program have endured.
Migrants continue to use guides at higher rates and avoid traveling by train. This report concludes with policy recommendations that seek to regularize migration in Mexico, clarify the legality of joint operations, improve the program’s public transparency, and strengthen the humanitarian goals originally laid out by the Southern Border Program.
Table of Contents
Table of Acronyms vii
Executive Summary xiii
Chapter 1: History of Mexico’s Southern Border and Migration Flows
Chapter 2: Historical Overview of Mexico’s Southern Border Security Policies
Chapter 3: Southern Border Program Structure
Coordinating Mechanism for Comprehensive Attention to Migration for the Southern Border (CAIMFS)
U.S. Support for the Southern Border Program
Chapter 4: Southern Border Program Implementation
Chapter 5: Southern Border Program Effects (2014-2015)
Crimes Against Migrants
Chapter 6: Southern Border Program Legacy (2016-2018) 36
Chapter 7: Recommendations
Appendix 1: Southern Border Proposals
Appendix 2: CAIMFS Project Collaboration
Appendix 3: CAIMFS Organizational Structure (2014-2019)
Appendix 4: Additional Enforcement Infrastructure Information
Appendix 5: Apprehensions & Deportations
Appendix 6: Routes
Appendix 7: Perpetrators of Crimes Against Migrants