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Faith groups urge Obama to protect the rights of migrants
November 12, 2010

Faith groups urge Obama to protect the rights of migrants
President Barack Obama and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico confer in the Oval Office of the White House, May 19, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
PDF of the letter to President Obama.
(Washington, D.C.) November 12, 2010 – This week, government and civil society representatives from around the globe convened in Mexico for the Global Forum on Migration and Development. Migrants in our region are experiencing a human rights crisis, particularly those who journey northward through Mexico en route to the United States. In August, 72 migrants from Central and South America were found massacred in northern Mexico. Far from an isolated occurrence, this incident is a horrifying example of the experiences that migrants suffer on a daily basis.  
In the spirit of the Global Forum’s theme, "shared prosperity – shared responsibility," faith, labor, and human rights groups – including Jesuit Refugee Service/USA – have joined together to urge President Obama to take responsibility in setting a global standard for sound policies to protect the rights of migrants, as well as demonstrate leadership in work with counterparts in Mexico to ensure that migrants receive the basic rights inherently afforded to all humanity. 

The letter, the full text of which is below and in the attached PDF, was sent to White House and State Department officials this morning.

November 12, 2010
Dear President Obama,
As faith-based and nongovernmental organizations concerned with the human rights of migrants and U.S. policy towards Latin America, we are writing to condemn and express our deep concern following the horrific massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico and urge you to take action to prevent the needless exploitation and deaths of migrants in the future.  
As you are likely aware, on August 24, 2010, the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America were found on a ranch in northern Mexico, just 100 miles south of the U.S. border.  A survivor recounted an alarming story: a group of migrants were kidnapped by one of several criminal organizations in Mexico that has extended their activities beyond drug trafficking and into kidnapping and extortion of migrants. When the abducted migrants, 58 men and 14 women, including teens and a pregnant woman, resisted their kidnappers’ demands and extortion attempts, they were brutally executed, one of the deadliest mass-killings in Mexico in many years. 
While this massacre is appalling in its scale and barbarity, it is far from an isolated incident. In recent years, reports of unchecked violence and brutality against migrants by criminal gangs and corrupt officials have grown. According to a report released last year by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, an estimated 18,000 migrants are kidnapped in Mexico every year. 
However, kidnappings make up only a fraction of the crime and violence affecting migrants passing through Mexico. Migrants suffer a range of abuses including torture, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder, committed by both organized crime, as well as police, soldiers, and other officials. Amnesty International estimates that 60 percent of migrant women traveling through Mexico fall victim to sexual abuse. As groups that work to protect and promote the dignity and inherent rights of all humans, especially the most vulnerable among us, we urge you to take action to stop such egregious and routine abuses against migrants.  
To bring an end to this humanitarian crisis, we respectfully call on you to demonstrate leadership needed to:

• Reform our broken immigration system to create safe, humane, and efficient channels to reunite separated family members and provide orderly channels of entry for new migrant workers and their families
•  Implement humane and sensible border security programs that reflect humanitarian values and strive to promote and protect the safety and human rights of border communities and migrants. 

•  Jointly address root causes of migration to reduce the necessity for people to migrate. Despite the brutal passage through Mexico, many Central and South American migrants choose to make the journey northward to the United States because they see few, if any, alternatives in their home communities that will allow them to support their families. We urge your Administration to work with our neighbors to the south to address economic disparity and political instability in migrants’ home countries which are exacerbated by U.S. policies and trade agreements.

•  Ensure that migrants are not victimized by officials in the United States by working to prevent, and if necessary, prosecute migrant-related abuse, excessive use of force, and corruption by the Border Patrol and other U.S. officials. 

• Focus limited government resources on prosecuting criminals who engage in human trafficking rather than costly programs like Operation Streamline, which wastes millions of dollars prosecuting non-dangerous migrants for immigration offenses.  

Additionally, we encourage you and members of your Administration to elevate the issue of pervasive violence against migrants in Mexico in bilateral dialogue with Mexico, as well as work with Mexican counterparts to:

• Ensure that authorities on both sides of the border focus on the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of violence and crimes against migrants.  While we have seen steps in the right direction—like President Calderón’s newly unveiled Comprehensive Plan to Prevent and Combat Migrant Kidnapping (Estrategia Integral para la Prevención y Combate al Secuestro de Migrantes) and the United States’ involvement in the October 8th ministerial meeting on transnational organized crime and safety of migrants held in Mexico—enhanced political will, resources, and cross-border cooperation will be necessary to ensure robust and meaningful implementation of any new measures intended to strengthen migrant safety and well-being. 

• Protect migrants’ rights defenders.  Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Care Centre for Migrants in Oaxaca, and countless others who provide humanitarian assistance and protect the rights of migrants have been the repeated target of threats, intimidation, and arrest by both drug gangs and local authorities.   We urge authorities to denounce and end the impunity for violence and harassment of these brave defenders.  

We respectfully urge you to take action to address the major human rights crisis facing migrants to ensure that the most vulnerable among us receive the basic rights inherently afforded to all humanity.    

American Friends Service Committee
Amnesty International USA
Border Network for Human Rights
Center for International Policy
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Kino Border Initiative
Latin America Working Group Education Fund
Literacy Network of Dane County (Wisconsin)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

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