MEXICO CITY - While the wave of child and teen migrants has receded at the U.S. border, detentions of Central American minors are up sharply in Mexico this year, the country’s National Immigration Institute reported Monday
It said detentions of Central American minors have risen 49 percent compared to the similar period last year, with about half of the 11,893 underage migrants detained between January and May traveling alone or with a smuggler. That’s compared to 8,003 in the same period of 2014 and 3,496 in 2013.
Two-thirds of those detained so far in 2015 were between the ages of 12 and 17. One third were 11 or younger. The institute said they were mainly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The increase comes as arrivals of minors at the U.S. Southwest border are off sharply.
Measured in the current fiscal year, from October to the end of May, unaccompanied minors were down by 51 percent, to 22,869.
“Family unit” apprehensions — minors accompanied by a family member — were also down at the U.S. border in the same period, by 47 percent.
Because of a beefed-up security program known as the Southern Border plan, Mexico is apparently preventing many of the Central American minors from reaching the U.S. border.
The treatment of children and adolescent migrants at U.S. detention centers became the subject of intense scrutiny and complaints in the summer of 2014.
Those same issues are now cropping up farther south.
The institute said Monday it was caring for the increased number of children through the country’s child welfare agencies before they are deported. Most Central American migrants are deported from Mexico on buses.
But minors, especially those in their teens, who were traveling with relatives are often held at Mexico’s sprawling Siglo XXI detention center in Tapachula, a city near the Guatemalan border.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has documented problems ranging from inadequate bedding and food, and treatment by guards.
Tomas Gonzalez, director of “The 72” migrant shelter in the Tabasco state city of Tenosique, said the detention center “is truly a jail, a terrible social situation, with drugs, prostitution, stores inside. It’s like a town without law.”
The Mexican government said the conditions are humane.
Honduras’ national human rights agency says the Central American country didn’t have adequate facilities to receive all the minors being deported.
The youths are deported to Honduras on buses that travel through the country to a youth reception facility called “El Eden” in the violence-wracked city of San Pedro Sula.
“One of the main problems in the repatriation process is the lack of security aboard the buses … which has resulted in many escapes during the transportation of minors,” the agency said in a statement last week.
It also said that the bathrooms and improvised dining rooms were inadequate and there was no air conditioning.