LOS ANGELES (CN) - Civil rights groups sued the State Department for information on the nature of support and financial aid it sends to Mexico for a program that deports Central American refugees and asylum-seekers.
The Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law et al. asked the State Department in September 2015 for records on the "type and amount" of financial aid it provides to Mexico's immigration agency, the Instituto Nacional de Migración.
Center for Human Rights president/attorney Peter Schey said that anecdotal evidence indicates that about 97 percent of asylum-seekers detained at the Mexico-Guatemala border are deported.
"Mexico's really playing hardball, and detains and then returns the vast majority of these people with no fair assessment about the type of danger they face if they are returned," Schey told Courthouse News.
Schey said that if the U.S. government pressures the Mexican government to comply with international law, it "would be very smart border enforcement" for the United States, and would protect refugees from human rights violations.
"They wouldn't make the dangerous journey to the U.S., where upwards of 90 percent suffer attacks at the hands of gangs, cartels, kidnappings, rape and robbery," Schey said.
Schey said the groups filed the Freedom of Information Act request for facts about U.S. involvement in Mexico's enforcement on the Mexico-Guatemala border, so as to make recommendations on immigration policy.
"They did not timely respond to that Freedom of Information Act request," Schey said. "It's about trying to get transparency and release of documents from the U.S. government about its role: what it knows and what it doesn't know about what's going on, and how its money is being spent at the Mexico-Guatemala border."
The five plaintiff groups, joined by an Episcopal bishop in Los Angeles, want information, including audits and other financial documents, to demonstrate how the Mexican government uses U.S. aid for its program.
They also seek documentation on how immigrants are treated in detention centers, procedures for offering asylum, and information on whether the immigration agency is complying with international human rights laws.
Release of such information would be diplomatically embarrassing for both countries.
U.S. immigration agencies are unpopular in Mexico, and the Mexican government customarily denies that it allows U.S. immigration agents to work there. This is a transparent fiction, as U.S. immigration agents have been murdered and wounded in Mexico. Leaked documents with reports of U.S. immigration agents operating throughout Mexico generally get harsh criticism in the Mexican Congress.
Schey's complaint says the State Department has refused to process his request or release the records as of Feb. 9, "(s)hrouding U.S. support for Mexico's unlawful interdiction program in secrecy."
He wants the State Department ordered to waive fees, expedite the request and produce the records without any more delays.
Plaintiffs include Human Rights Watch, Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, Red Mexicana De Líderes Y Organizations Migrantes, Red De Pastores y Lideres Latinos Del Sur De California, and the Right Rev. Jon Bruno.
They are represented by Carlos Holguin, with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law in Los Angeles.
Department of Justice officials could not immediately be reached for comment by email and phone on Thursday.
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