U.S. lawmakers push for better treatment of illegal immigrants in Mexico

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Already unhappy with the Obama administration’s handling of illegal immigrants in the U.S., liberal lawmakers on Friday asked the government to go even further and make American aid to Mexico based on that country treating immigrants better.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led a letter signed by more than 30 lawmakers, including Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard L. Berman, that accused Mexican authorities of everything from kidnapping and robbery to extortion of migrants crossing Mexico on their way to the U.S.

In the letter the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to put pressure on Mexico to clean things up.

“The current levels of abuse against migrants in transit in Mexico represent a humanitarian crisis that has been recognized by international human rights organizations across the globe,” they wrote, adding that because of its location and ties, the U.S. has “a clear interest and responsibility” to push Mexico.

Mexico has regularly fought for better treatment of its citizens who live illegally in the U.S., but reports have exposed rough treatment by Mexican authorities of Central American migrants who cross Mexico on their way to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

In addition, illegal immigrants are preyed upon by smugglers and sometimes fellow migrants themselves.

One worker at a shelter for illegal immigrants in Mexico told Amnesty International in 2010 that six out of every 10 women and girls who pass through the facility have faced sexual violence.

It’s unclear how many illegal immigrants cross Mexico to try to reach the U.S. The 2010 Amnesty report, citing Mexican government figures, said the number has been declining since 2006 — just as authorities in the U.S. believe the flow of illegal immigrants across its own border has decreased.

Up until several years, even Mexico pushed for lower penalties for its citizens living illegally in the U.S., Mexican law called for prison sentences of up to 10 years for illegal immigrants there. In 2008 that penalty was reduced to a fine.

Even with illegal immigration numbers leveling off in the U.S., the issue remains a hot topic.

Immigrant-rights groups and liberal members of Congress have called on the Obama administration to halt deportations until a broad new immigration law can be passed to legalize most illegal immigrants.

President Obama has said he doesn’t have the authority to halt all deportations, but earlier this year the administration issued new guidance telling immigration authorities and federal prosecutors not to pursue cases against rank-and-file illegal immigrants who don’t have long criminal records or repeated immigration law violations.

Hispanic members of Congress, including many who signed Friday’s letter, plan to meet with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano next week to ask her about how the new priorities are working.

This past week Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, personally took an illegal immigrant in South Carolina to a meeting with Homeland Security officials in Charleston to ask that he be considered one of the low-priority deportation cases that gets dismissed.

“Successfully appealing for the closure of Mr. Sanchez’ case shows people how to fight on other cases in South Carolina and nationally where deporting a father and working man is not in the best interest of our country,” Mr. Gutierrez said.

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