IDC’s Americas Regional Programme is currently undertaking research into the situation of migrant children on the southern Mexican border. One of the objectives of this study is to explore whether children are indeed no longer detained due to their migration status, following the 2020 legal reform which prohibited their detention in immigration detention centres. 

The initial findings of the study were recently presented in Mexico City, focusing on the following two research queries:

Confirm whether local authorities are familiar with the Migrant Child Protection Protocol (CPR), created in 2019 by a federal commission. 

Verify the implementation of the Migration Law reforms, which prohibit the detention of accompanied and unaccompanied children in detention centres. 

The first step in the research was to request public information and official responses with data and input from authorities who participate in the CPR and who attend to this population. 

This was followed by on-site visits to three southern Mexican states to conduct interviews with authorities regarding their work procedures, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. In particular, we aimed to cross-check official data with reality. 


The visits corroborated that state and municipal authorities have limited knowledge of the CPR, although it is worth mentioning that all do have reception and care  procedures. Nevertheless, these are far from what is stipulated in the CPR, particularly regarding issues around inter-institutional communication and coordination, and hence the importance of implementing state protocols. 

There is also an urgent need to strengthen the State and Municipal Protection Attorneys, who have limited human and material resources with which to fulfil their obligations as established by law. This is evidenced by the fact that international agencies, such as UNICEF and UNHCR, are currently paying the salaries of members of the multidisciplinary teams who carry out best interests evaluations and determinations.

In addition, there is insufficient capacity in the Centres for Social Assistance (shelters) to receive children referred by the National Institute of Migration, which impedes full compliance with the reform. Although certain funding was made available towards the end of 2021, beginning of 2022, this has been insufficient and has only enabled the reception of children in order to immediately return them to their countries of origin, lacking a human rights protection perspective.  

One of the main and surprising findings of the study relates to where children are held, given that there is insufficient capacity to receive them. They were found to be held in so-called “referral offices,” created by the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM). Children remain there until their migration procedure has been resolved, or until referred to the protection authorities. In many cases, this is done without an assessment of their situation and therefore without a determination of their best interest. In flagrant violation of the Migration law reform, at least in the states in which the research is being conducted, these offices are located next to detention centres and also depend on the INM. This contravenes the reform that prohibits the enabling of spaces for the detention of children in order to avoid the claim that children are not being held in detention centres. 

Finally, it is worth mentioning that interviews with the Guatemalan and Honduran consulates in the region revealed that while they recognise the importance of the reform, they are concerned by the lack of institutional capacity to provide reception and care for the total number of children. 

All authorities appear to be aware of the practices and significant shortcomings in service provision, and expect support and advice. It is notable that the work of those authorities that have collaborated with and received support from civil society organisations including IDC has advanced considerably in comparison with those who are more resistant and have not been open to such collaboration. 

These findings underpin a second phase of advocacy in the three states, aimed at ensuring better practices.

By Pablo Loredo IDC Americas Monitoring & Evaluation Officer