- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hundreds of migrants have been attacked by armed gangs wearing military-style uniforms as they’ve tried to cross through Mexico this month, Amnesty International said in a new warning about the dangerous journey many Central Americans are making to try to make it to the U.S.

Dozens of migrants have gone missing, and some have been killed in the attacks, the human rights group said, demanding the Mexican government conduct investigations to get to the bottom of the attacks.

Mexico has become a death trap for migrants, with vicious criminal gangs at every corner waiting for their opportunity to attack them for a few dollars, while authorities at the state and federal level are more eager to deport people than to save lives,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

The group highlighted two particularly brazen attacks.

On June 12, men armed with pistols, shotguns and machetes attacked, demanding money from a group of about 100 Central Americans who had stowed away on a cargo train, making their way through southern Mexico.

Ten days earlier, armed men in military-style uniforms attacked a group of about 120 migrants who were caravanning in northern Mexico toward the U.S. In that case, the armed men approached and fired “indiscriminately.”

The migrants scattered, with dozens still missing and feared to have been kidnapped, Amnesty said. Investigators later found three bodies and two burned vehicles at the scene, Amnesty International said.

Last summer’s surge of Central Americans attempting to reach the U.S. changed the face of illegal immigration in both the U.S. and Mexico — though the flow to the U.S. has dissipated substantially this year.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has claimed credit for much of the dip, saying the U.S. rejiggered its enforcement priorities and deployed more resources to the border, taking them away from other enforcement, since fewer deportations are happening in the interior of the U.S. thanks to the president’s amnesty.

Southern neighbors have also stepped up their efforts, with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the three countries sending most of the illegal immigrants — all taking steps, under prodding from the U.S., to try to keep their citizens at home.

Part of that involves warning of the dangers of the journey, which is notoriously dangerous.

“Coyotes,” or smugglers, regularly take migrants hostage and demand more money from their families to release them, and reports of rape are common. Some women and girls preparing to make the journey will obtain birth control, known colloquially as the “Mexico pill,” in anticipation of being raped and hoping to avoid pregnancy from it.

Even those who don’t fall victim to coyotes or fellow travelers have to survive harsh terrain with little water.

Mexico, under pressure from the U.S. and increasingly worried about the violence, has stepped up its own southern border enforcement to try to stem the flow of folks crossing its territory.

The Associated Press reported last week that Mexico now deports more Central Americans than the U.S. does thanks to a boost in enforcement Mexican authorities made after last summer’s surge of illegal immigrants.

Mexico is doing the dirty work, the very dirty work, for the United States,” Tomas Gonzalez, a Franciscan friar who runs a shelter for migrants, told The Associated Press.

The Mexican embassy in Washington didn’t respond to questions about either the violence or the increase in deportations.

Amnesty has demanded the Mexican government do more to investigate the incidents and the rising number of serious incidents.

From the U.S. perspective, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz has raised the issue of increasing violence with the State Department, questioning whether the administration is doing enough to protect its consular employees who work in dangerous areas of Mexico.

He also questioned Mr. Johnson’s assertion that the border is secure.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect for him, but he’s doing this country a disservice by telling people that apprehensions are down, so it’s safer. I’ll go show him, any place he wants, where they’re able to cross by the hundreds on a nightly basis,” Mr. Chaffetz said on C-SPAN.

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