TREND: In the past three years, the number of migrant minors (below age 18) apprehended in Mexico has been on the rise. On November 11, 2020, the Mexican government issued a decree to reform Mexico’s immigration law to prohibit holding unauthorized migrant children in detention centers. This decree also enables minors to provisionally adjust their migration status to access basic services and issue a humanitarian visa until the outcome of their judicial case is determined. This is what official figures show about migrant children in Mexico:
- From January 2014 through September 2020, Mexico apprehended 211,000 unauthorized migrant children. Fifty-three percent were between 12 and 17 years old, and 39 percent were unaccompanied minors. Minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have composed more than 90 percent of all migrant children apprehended by Mexican authorities since 2014—though the share of non-Central American minors has increased since 2019, particularly from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti.
- In 2019, around 54,000 migrant children were apprehended—the highest figure recorded since 2014. In contrast, only 9,000 migrant children were apprehended through the first nine months of 2020. The drop was particularly sharp at the outset of the pandemic in April when apprehensions of migrant children dropped by 97 percent.
- Furthermore, the largest group of minors apprehended in 2019 were male accompanied children ages 0 to 11 (27 percent of all migrant children apprehensions). Through the first nine months of 2020, however, male unaccompanied children ages 12 to 17 accounted for the largest share (27 percent). While in 2019, 58 percent of all apprehended minors were male, they represented 64 percent in 2020.
- Mexico has returned 190,000 of the 211,000 unauthorized migrant children it apprehended since 2014. This figure represents 23 percent of the 838,000 total returns that Mexican authorities conducted since 2014. Fifty percent of all minors returned from 2014 through September2020 were ages 12 to17. Mexican authorities have conducted these returns primarily from three main states: Veracruz, Chiapas, and Tabasco.
- In 2019 alone, Mexican authorities returned 47,000 migrant minors – the highest figure recorded in the past six years. Following the trend in apprehensions, the number of minors returned by Mexican authorities from January through September 2020 dropped by 87 percent compared to the same period in 2019. However, since July the number of apprehensions has begun to increase.
TAKEAWAY: Over the past years, the increase in flows of unauthorized migrant children traveling to and through Mexico has posed serious enforcement and protection challenges for Mexican immigration authorities and policymakers. The recent changes to Mexico’s immigration law are a step forward in upholding the rights and best interest of migrant children. As authorities implement these reforms at the state and local levels, however, it will be imperative for Mexican policymakers to identify the specific characteristics and diverse needs of minors to tailor their protection measures and provide care and services to them.
* Spotlight by Andrea Tanco, Associate Policy Analyst; Ariel Ruiz Soto, Policy Analyst; and Ana Paulina Ornelas Cruz, Research Consultant at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI). MPI seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis, opportunities for learning and dialogue, and the development of new ideas to address complex policy questions.Twitter: @migrationpolicy