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Mexico Deporting Migrating Minors In Record Numbers


U.S. border officials are seeing an increase in the number of migrant children arriving from Central America. The numbers are not as high as during the surge in the summer of 2014. And one reason for that is that Mexico is stopping the children along the way and deporting them back to their homelands in record numbers. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Sixteen-year-old Jorge Alberto Barrera Lima set out for the U.S. from his town in southern Guatemala last July. His goal - to join his father in Connecticut.


KAHN: Jorge says during his journey through Guatemala and Mexico, he rode in cars, a boat, atop a cargo train for three days and finally sat on a bus for 20 hours before reaching Piedras Negras, right across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.

BARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We were put in a house for eight days and given food and everything, the teenager says. Thirty-five other migrants were housed with them. But before they could make the final crossing over the U.S. border, he says Mexican police raided the home. Jorge says he was detained for more than a month in a shelter for underage children then flown back to Guatemala.


KAHN: He came back so pale and skinny, says his 70-year-old grandmother Petrona Sanchez Mendoza. Sanchez rents a small shack in a construction yard where she has an open fire and makes tortillas. She says this once quiet town of Jalapa is now filled with gangs.

SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: They've killed a lot of people here, she says as she stacks a pile of fat warm tortillas in a basket. Jorge's mother, Marta Lima Sanchez says her son stopped going to school around the first of the year.

MARTA LIMA SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She tells a story about how one day gang members went after Jorge, threw rocks and fired a gun as he ran away. He'd be better off with his dad, she says. While apprehensions of Central Americans along the U.S.-Mexico border are down by 40 percent in the past year, the picture is much different in Mexico. Arrests have shot up nearly 80 percent over the same period.

MAUREEN MEYER: Mexico has assumed a new role as an immigration enforcer.

KAHN: Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy organization, has been studying the new crackdown in Mexico. She says with the increase in detentions has come a rise in corruption.

MEYER: We have seen abuses increased by immigration agents and also there's been ongoing concern about abuse by Mexico's federal police, state police, municipal police, anyone that's sort of interacting with migrants.

KAHN: Those abuses range from physical mistreatment in increasingly overcrowded detention facilities, says Meyer, to extortion and robbery. Twenty-eight-year-old Elfigo DeLeon can attest to that. He's sitting in a processing center in Guatemala City after just being deported. He says he was on a bus in Mexico heading north when Mexican agents pulled him and 30 other Central Americans off.

ELFIGO DELEON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They made us all take off our jackets, our shoes and socks," says DeLeon. "That's where I'd hidden by money, 5,000 pesos." DeLeon says agents took his money and similar sums from the dozens of other migrants. Apart from the abuse, advocates for the migrants say many would-be refugees with credible asylum claims are getting swept up. On a recent tour of detention facilities along Mexico's southern border, Eric Olson with the Wilson Center in Washington says he saw evidence of that. He reviewed dozens of forms to be filled out by migrants with questions regarding fear and requesting protection. They'd already been checked no.

ERIC OLSON: And it wasn't just that somebody had gone through with the pen and marked off no, no, no, no, but it - they were literally printed with a check in the box.

KAHN: After repeated attempts to interview Mexican immigration officials, a spokesperson finally said her department would have no comment. Young Jorge Barrera says Mexican authorities never asked if he was afraid to go home before they deported him to Guatemala. Back in his living room, Barrera, who just turned 17, huddles with his family in a circle and prays.

LIMA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says since he's been back, the guys in the gangs have been bugging him.

BARRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says he'll try again to get to his dad in the U.S. "It's scarier here," he says, "than making the dangerous trek through Mexico.

LIMA: (Speaking Spanish).



KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.