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Monday, May 27, 2024

Migrants are being raped at Mexico border as they await entry to US

Criminal investigations into the rape of foreign nationals, excluding Americans, were the highest on record in the two cities this year, according to state data from 2014 to 2023 obtained by Reuters through freedom of information requests.

When Carolina’s captors arrived at dawn to pull her out of the stash house in the Mexican border city of Reynosa in late May, she thought they were going to force her to call her family in Venezuela again to beg them to pay $2,000 ransom.

Instead, one of the men shoved her onto a broken-down bus parked outside and raped her, she told Reuters. “It’s the saddest, most horrible thing that can happen to a person,” Carolina said.

A migrant advocate who assisted Carolina after the kidnapping, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, confirmed all the details of her account.

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The attack came amid an increase in sexual violence against migrants in the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, both major transit routes for immigrants seeking to enter the U.S., according to data from the Mexican government and humanitarian groups, as well as interviews with eight sexual assault survivors and more than a dozen local aid workers.

“The inhumane way smugglers abuse, extort, and perpetrate violence against migrants for profit is criminal and morally reprehensible,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson Luis Miranda said in response to questions about the rise in reported rapes.

Criminal investigations into the rape of foreign nationals, excluding Americans, were the highest on record in the two cities this year, according to state data from 2014 to 2023 obtained by Reuters through freedom of information requests.

The U.S. State Department considers Tamaulipas, where the two cities are located, to be the most dangerous state along the U.S.-Mexico border.

‘TORTURE PROCESS’

Facing record illegal border crossings, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in May moved to a new system that required migrants to secure an appointment – via an app known as CBP One – to present themselves at a legal border crossing to enter the United States.

Nine experts, including lawyers, medical professionals, and aid workers, told Reuters the new system has had unintended consequences in the two cities, contributing to a spike in violence.

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The high risk of kidnapping and sexual assault in Reynosa and Matamoros is one of the factors pushing migrants to cross illegally, four advocates said. Crossings border-wide surged in September.

Biden officials say the new CBP policy is more humane because it reduces the need for migrants to pay smugglers and criminal groups to ferry them across the border illegally.

The experts said many asylum seekers are no longer paying smugglers to get them across the border – instead traveling towards the frontier on their own, hoping to make an appointment on the app.

But criminal groups are still demanding these migrants pay to enter their territory, the experts said.

“Rape is part of the torture process to get the money,” said Bertha Bermúdez Tapia, a sociologist at New Mexico State University researching the impacts of Biden’s policy on migrants in Tamaulipas.

The Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel are both active in the region and kidnap migrants for ransom, particularly those who arrive without smugglers’ protection, according to security analysts. Reuters was unable to contact the two groups.

Some migrants are also spending more time in the dangerous region, waiting to secure an appointment on the app. Tens of thousands of people a day are competing for 1,450 slots, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

A senior CBP official based in Washington said CBP was troubled by reports of migrants sexually assaulted in the two cities.

“It’s absolutely something that we’re concerned about,” said the official, who requested anonymity as a condition of the interview.

U.S. authorities temporarily suspended CBP One appointments in June in another Tamaulipas border city, Nuevo Laredo, due to “extortion and kidnapping concerns,” the official said.

However, Miranda, the DHS spokesperson, said the administration’s policies made it unnecessary to wait at the border since migrants could book an appointment from other parts of Central and Northern Mexico.

More than 250,000 migrants have scheduled appointments on the CBP One app, and over 200,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans have entered the United States by air under a separate Biden humanitarian program, according to CBP statistics.