Preventing the detention of migrant children through local coordination of a national protection route

The government of Mexico ended 2019 with a huge debt due to depriving 51,999 migrant children of their liberty, a 77.7% increase compared to the previous year. In response to the prohibition contained in the Regulations of the General Law on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, which states no minor under the age of 18 shall be detained for migratory reasons, the Commission on the Protection of Migrant Children and Adolescents (Protection Commission) began 2020 with a plan to implement the recently created Protection Route for Children and Adolescents in a Mobility Situation, with the support of civil society members of this commission.

Although the health emergency interrupted the progress in coordination and implementing priorities, as in many countries, the use of technology has allowed the continued coordination of care and advocacy of civil society organisations to gain the right to personal freedom for migrant children and adolescents. The Protection Commission adjusted and reorganised its work to account for the health emergency, while also implementing the urgent Protection Route throughout the 32 states in the Mexican Republic. This was done with the central aim to not use immigration detention, and to provide referrals to several models of alternative care focused on case management.

 Covid-19 caused sudden full migration stations in Mexico, including the presence of migrant children and adolescents. Unfortunately, they were not freed by immigration authorities into emerging programs on alternatives to detention; instead, many were transferred to their countries of origin, whenever border restrictions permitted. Faced with this worrying scenario, the Protection Commission launched a virtual conversations program aimed at listening to the needs of state authorities, and local civil society organisations to create a national response to the pandemic. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose was to make sure each state established a similar commission tasked with implementing the Protection Route, and the promoting alternative care models for migrant children and adolescents.

The first conversations session had nationwide reach with over 140 participants, mostly child protection, migration and asylum authorities who spoke about the recommendations issued by international bodies on effective protection of migrant children and adolescents in the context of Covid.  IDC shared the Recommendations of the Working Group on Alternatives to Immigration Detention of the United Nations Network on Migration, which seek to ensure the health of people in human mobility situations who are detained or at risk of being detained. These recommendations include: ending immigration detention, adopting moratoriums on the use of immigration detention, and increasing non-custodial alternatives to immigration detention.

This conversation session has been followed by more exchanges with local authorities in the states of Chiapas, Baja California and Coahuila, which emphasised the need for better coordination among child protection authorities and immigration and asylum authorities. Better coordination will ensure that children and adolescents in mobility situations are not deprived of their liberty at migration stations. Some alternative care models have been presented during these session, and civil society has shared the obstacles to adopting the Protection Route, with an emphasis on case management. This will be followed by conversation sessions with the states of Tlaxcala, Sonora and others.

Mexico continues to face significant challenges to protect children and adolescents in a mobility situations, such as the difficulty of coordinating authorities. There are over one thousand protection authorities in the country with powers to care for migrant children and adolescents. Additional difficulties include lack of resources, and the power conferred by law to immigration authorities to place children and adolescents in migration stations prior to being referred to protection officials.

The efforts made by the Protection Commission, supported by IDC and its member and allied organisations, has led to the possibility of developing effective models, establishing coordination mechanisms, and generating data and evidence on better care for children and adolescents. At its core, this is about ensuring the freedom of this population, and making referrals to alternative care models that allow them to live in the community, and with the support of various entities that enable the fulfilment of their human rights.