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He told of one incident in which a migrant arrived at the Saltillo shelter claiming to have narrowly escaped a kidnapping.

Shelter organizers initially were unfazed. But nerves went on edge when the migrant pointed to a federal police car parked near the shelter and said the man who had tried to kidnap him was sitting in the front seat.

‘Double morality’

Mexico’s leaders have long denounced the U.S. for harsh treatment of Mexicans living north of the border.

Arizona’s immigration law, which was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, drew particularly fierce criticism from President Felipe Calderon upon its enactment in 2010.

Until recently, however, Mexico’s own immigration laws were among the most draconian on the planet, allowing for felony charges against anyone found to be in the country illegally.

Analysts say Mexico’s laws created the pretext for local authorities to prey on Central Americans. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, police made a custom of threatening felony charges if migrants refused to pay bribes.

The law’s strictness also undercut Mexicans’ criticism of U.S. immigration policy.

“As the Mexican government began calling attention to the protection of human rights of Mexicans in the United States, calling on the U.S. government to issue more visas to Mexicans and to establish a guest worker program for Mexicans, the Mexican government found itself being accused of failing to grant foreigners in Mexico the same civil rights and workplace protections,” says a 2011 report by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

Laura Gonzalez-Murphy, a professor at the State University of New York at Albany who co-wrote the report, says such factors served as motivation for sweeping immigration law changes embraced by the Mexican government during recent years.

In 2008, Mexican lawmakers eliminated the felony charge that could be filed against anyone passing through Mexico without documents.

The change was driven in part by a desire to gain leverage in the discourse with Washington and in part by a legitimate determination to improve the treatment of illegal immigrants passing through the country, Ms. Gonzalez-Murphy said.

Lawmakers went a step further in June by granting undocumented Central American migrants access to due process rights — effectively the same legal protections they have if they make it to the United States.

On paper, the changes are sweeping. Their implementation is a different story.

Bureaucratic bungling and political bickering have prevented enactment of regulations that “will give teeth to the new law,” Ms. Gonzalez-Murphy said.

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