Graciela Zamudio, executive director of Alma Migrante, works in her office in Tijuana / Photo by Maya Srikrishnan

In California, immigrant advocates often sue the government when they want to challenge problematic policies and uphold immigrants’ rights. The American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit to end family separation at the border is a prime example.

But on the other side of the border, this type of litigation is virtually unheard of. That is, until Graciela Zamudio and her organization, Alma Migrante, stepped up.

“For this topic, in this community in Tijuana, it’s not something many advocates are familiar with,” Zamudio said. “Strategic litigation has only been used in Tijuana, in Baja California, for issues other than migration.”

Zamudio and Alma Migrante plan to change that.

Zamudio founded the organization in April 2018, shortly after a migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana, prompting zero-tolerance policies and family separations across the southwestern U.S. border to deter migrants from trying to enter the United States. Before founding Alma Migrante, Zamudio was the head of the Regional Office of the National Human Rights Commission in the state of Baja California

Zamudio is also co-counsel in a case before the Inter-American Court that involves Al Otro Lado. The organization, which works with migrants in Tijuana and Southern California, is seeking protection after two of its leaders had alerts placed on their passports — what they say was a retaliation by the Mexican and U.S. governments for their work at the border.

Zamudio said the organization has taken on five or six of these strategic lawsuits so far. The group also works with shelters and others in Tijuana to spread the word about migrant rights in Mexico.

One notable case came in fall 2018, when the largest caravan of thousands of Central Americans was waiting in Tijuana. The city’s mayor announced at the time that local police would arrest migrants for any crimes, including infracciones administrativas, or petty offenses, like public intoxication or public urination, and send them to Mexico’s National Migration Institute to be processed for deportation.

Attorneys from Alma Migrante challenged that verbal decree from city officials, and a judge ruled that local police could not transfer migrants to federal immigration officials for deportation for those types of petty offenses. If a migrant is convicted of a serious crime, he or she could be transferred for deportation after serving their sentence, not when they are first arrested and not for petty offenses that only result in fines.

“It’s important that the public focuses on these sorts of things,” Zamudio said. “If someone breaks the law or commits some sort of infraction, the law has established what happens to them. And we need to follow the proper channels. … It shouldn’t be as soon as you’re arrested, you’re sent to a different agency and deported immediately.”

Zamudio’s goal through Alma Migrante is to strengthen the application of laws that exist in Mexico to protect migrants.

“Mexico has good laws in comparison to many Latin America countries,” she said. “We have ways to access justice. The problem we’re seeing is that not only migrants don’t know them, but those who are advocating don’t know them either.”

U.S. Immigration Enforcement Moves South

President Donald Trump is touting a new immigration enforcement deal with Mexico in response to his recent threat to impose tariffs unless that nation does more to stop migrants from arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. But the deal mostly includes actions that Mexico had agreed to months ago, the New York Times reports.

The deal includes the expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocols, which require Central American asylum-seekers to wait for their U.S. asylum proceedings in Mexico, and the deployment of the Mexican national guard to the country’s southern border.

As of last week, more than 11,000 asylum-seekers have been required to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases move forward — and it’s been very difficult for them to argue that they need to wait in the United States, reports Reuters. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a case here involving a judge who ordered the Department of Homeland Security to keep a Honduran asylum-seeker in the United States, citing questions over the man’s mental competency.

The Washington Post looks at how Mexico’s efforts to reinforce its southern border is playing out on the ground. PRI digs into how Mexico’s attitude towards migrants has been shifting.

Human rights activists and analysts in Guatemala are raising concerns over the decision to send DHS agents to the country, reports Al Jazeera. At the same time, other discussions to make Guatemala a “Third Safe Country” where asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador can request refuge instead of the United States have hit an impasse, Voice of America reports.

Criminalization of Migrant Aid Workers Continues

Governments are continuing to target people who work with migrants. But court decisions and other events in the past few weeks reveal how precarious the accusations against aid workers and activists are:

More Border News

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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