The authorities in Mexico have denied entry to 21,829 people so far in 2022, triple that of all of last year
Entering Mexico for a Colombian is like flipping a coin. Daniel Campos, 24, prefers not to give his real name for fear of possible reprisals from the authorities. In June of this year, he assures, he was kidnapped by Immigration in Mexicali (Baja California). “It all started when I arrived at the airport with my family. We were my sister, my 10-year-old niece and my brother-in-law. We were going on vacation,” he recalls. At Immigration they took away their passport and cell phone. They were separated from the group and put in the so-called “rejection room,” a room where agents take a last look at the legal status of travelers before making a decision to deport them or let them into the country.
Campos got a cross. After being detained for several hours, they put him and several companions on a bus and took them to Tijuana. “They put me in the National Institute of Migration (INM), but although at first that gave me peace of mind because I thought it was a safe place, later when I saw how they treated me I felt very scared,” he says.
One of the guards of the institution told him that he had to pay to be able to leave: “They asked me for a thousand dollars to set me free.” When Campos accepted, they introduced him to a supposed lawyer, who responded to the name of Rodolfo Muñoz. The first thing the lawyer did was ask him what he was doing in Colombia. The question, Campos points out, had only one intention: to make a quick calculation of how much money he earned, to ask him more or less for his freedom. Finally, they applied the standard fee: $1,000 to enter Mexico.
The Association of Colombians in Tijuana denounces that this lawyer is an accomplice of the Immigration Department and that his job is to extort money from frightened travelers to charge them for setting them free.
Contacted by phone under the pretext of asking him to get a family member out of Colombia, Muñoz is willing. “It is a very simple procedure. As soon as we are sure that they are not going to deport him, then we talk about fees, ”he says.
Hang up and after a while call back:
“Hey, he’s just a Colombian detainee, right?”
“We’ll leave it to you at $800.” We are charging $1,200 per Colombian. We are charging 2,500 for up to two people, but I’ll give you a discount.
“How can we be sure he’s released?”
“Send me half now and the other half when they do.” It is very important to secure suspension of deportation.
Muñoz hangs up and calls his contact at Immigration to move the release.
Given this situation, the Colombian Foreign Ministry has published a series of recommendations for Colombians who wish to travel to Mexico. On the website itself it is clarified that there is a risk that they will be deported even if they meet all the requirements to enter the country.
The Mexican immigration authorities are limited to stating, through a statement, that at the time a foreign person arrives, documentation can be requested to verify the reason for their trip. It defends that the institution operates with “quality” care in its operations so that, in accordance with the law, the entry, stay, transit and exit of foreigners is allowed. This newspaper also requested information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico but received no response.
kidnapped by migration
Santiago Angulo, 25, went to his sister’s wedding in March this year. When he arrived at the airport in Mexicali (Baja California) with his entire family, immigration agents forced them to stand in a different line as soon as they saw his Colombian passport. Even though he had all his papers in order and it was the third time he had been to that country, his entry was denied. It was just the beginning of his nightmare. His situation was the same as Campos’s just a few months earlier.
The agents put him and his girlfriend on some buses and took them to the INM. Earlier, they told their family not to think of following them on the road. “They never told us why they were stopping us, where they were taking us or what was going on,” Angulo recalls.
From what little he saw, he could read a sign that read: “Vía a la Rumorosa.” There he learned that they were being taken to Tijuana , in the state of Baja California. Angulo was able to count eight buses and about 15 people for each one and assures that most of them were Colombians and from other Latin American countries. These transports, he explains, come and go from the airport at least a couple of times a day to transfer detained migrants.
As soon as they arrived at their destination, they were informed that they were going to be deported. They were never allowed to have an interview with an agent or a lawyer. At the detention center, Angulo and those who arrived with him had to remove their laces and hand over their bags and passport. Ultimately, they were held incommunicado.
The cell, he remembers, was about 10 square meters, and in it he had to share space with dozens of people who were overcrowded. In his mind, etched forever has remained the smell of that place, which lacked the minimum hygienic conditions, since the detainees are forced to fend for themselves to relieve themselves during the hours that their captivity lasted.
Between $1,000 and $2,000 to break free
After spending the worst night of his life and hardly being able to eat, accumulated fatigue, hunger and disgust sharpened Angulo’s ingenuity, and he began to ask here and there what he had to do to get out. Without attaching too much importance to the fact, as if it were just another routine administrative procedure, they explained that detainees usually pay immigration officials $2,000 to let them out and not deport them.
Finally, after being held for 29 hours without explanation, he was able to get out thanks to the help of the Colombian association that works to denounce these cases of human rights violations in Tijuana. “I felt as if he had been kidnapped,” he says as a balance of what he experienced.
So far this year, Mexico has denied entry to 21,829 Colombians despite the fact that they meet all immigration requirements, according to the Colombian Foreign Ministry. This figure is three times higher than that recorded during the same period in 2021, when 5,238 Colombians were not admitted by the Mexican immigration authorities.
For its part, the Mexican INM they defend that the process of entry and inadmission to Mexico is given in accordance with the law and the regulations on the matter, without distinguishing the country of origin and respecting human rights. The immigration authority puts the number of people returned to Colombia at 1,101.
This Monday, the governments of Colombia and Mexico will meet to address the continuous complaints of mistreatment of Colombian travelers by the Mexican immigration authorities and the worrying increase in non-admissions to travelers who have all the required documentation. Officially, the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that the work table will serve to discuss ” sensitive issues of a migratory nature .”
The room of rejection and terror
The place most feared by thousands of South American travelers on their way to Mexico is the “rejection room”, a small room that has been heard a lot and seen little. At least, until now. Colombian speaker and youtuber Pablo Rabelo managed to sneak a hidden camera to denounce the conditions in which he was held.
The man from Bogota was going to give a conference in Mexico City. He traveled from Lima, Peru, but to his surprise, when he arrived he was not admitted. They took him to a room where they left him incommunicado and without a passport. “They never told me what was going on,” he says.
Rabelo began recording the place with a small hidden camera. The recording shows a room with cabins and some urinals that more than thirty people had to share: “When they open that door for you, you are hit by the smell of armpits and a very great heat. There was a bathroom, but there was no paper and some people were urinating in the dumpsters.”
“You go from being a tourist traveling first class to a criminal in a matter of minutes,” he says. Most of the people who were held were Colombians. In addition, he says that they did not give him a glass of water and they kept him without eating for 10 hours with the excuse that it was up to the airline.
A Mexican official, who asks to omit his name, acknowledged to EL PAÍS in March that the country’s immigration policy is a source of permanent claims by its trade partners in the Pacific Alliance: Colombia, Chile, and Peru. Although economic integration brought about the elimination of visas between these states in 2012, this paradoxically gave INM agents a greater margin of discretion, explains the source. “Many times, Mexico complains to the United States about the treatment its migrants receive, while with Central and South American countries the roles are reversed,” he adds.
Gabriel Ochoa, 53, was a victim of it. He arrived at the Mexico City Airport to make a connection and continue to El Salvador: “When I turned in my immigration papers, they treated me like a prisoner.” They held him for 24 hours until he managed to get him back on a flight. Such was his fear and his anguish that at first he experienced the deportation as a victory, as the end of an experience that he did not even remotely want to repeat. However, when he was about to board the plane, some security agents accompanied him to his seat to warn the rest of the passengers that the man had been held in the rejection room all night.
After a whole day of being terrified without even knowing why, Ochoa felt all that fear come back in the form of suspicious glances cast from time to time by the other passengers. It was the particular revenge of some agents who had convicted him of a crime that is becoming more and more serious in Mexican airports: being Colombian.