Working Towards Ending Child Detention in Mexico

The second IDC workshop on alternatives to immigration detention in Mexico, Mexico City, December, 2015

Traditionally, Mexico has been viewed as a “transit country” in which there are no easy solutions for managing migration without detention. This view was so predominate that in 2015, more than 35,700 children were detained because of their migration situation.

IDC activities have focused on shifting this perspective, encouraging Mexican stakeholders to see this as an opportunity to take up the challenge to lead change in the very complex regional and global migration context of Mexico. During this reporting period, IDC has taken advantage of the opportunity to inspire decision-makers and their advisors to imagine a different outcome, one where migrants – and especially children – do not need to be detained in order to comply with immigration procedures.

This year saw the culmination of various advocacy efforts by IDC and our members and partners, resulting in the adoption of a national child protection system under new legislation that includes migrant children, and regulations directly prohibiting immigration detention of children.

Article 111.  At no time will migrant children or adolescents, regardless of whether or not they are traveling with adults, be deprived of th eir freedom in Immigration Stations or in any other immigration detention center

(Regulations for the National Child Rights Law, December 2, 2015. Unofficial translation).

The regulations establish national norms for the implementation of the Child Rights Law and represent an important step forward in guaranteeing migrant children’s right to liberty. The regulations recognize that immigration detention is no place for children, and go further than the current Immigration Law, which only protects children traveling without their parents or guardians from immigration detention via transfer to the family welfare system. This work has been further strengthened by a clear directive from the Commissioner for the National Migration Institute to continue working on solutions that can support the release of children in need of protection.

In addition to this positive structural change, the IDC supported key government and civil society partners to jointly develop alternatives for unaccompanied migrant children. This culminated in an 8 month pilot that enabled 20 children to be released from detention into an alternative care program. Rather than facing the harmful impacts of detention, these children were released to two open-door alternative child care programs whose holistic community models which ensured freedom of movement, access to education and healthcare, and communication with family.

“Now, we seldom hear people say ‘alternatives to detention won’t be possible in this context’.  Instead, we receive many questions about how to implement alternatives, requests for support and training, and general goodwill and interest…”

Post-pilot, international experts such as UNICEF and UNHCR, as well as the new Federal Child Rights Protection Agency (Procuraduria Federal de Protección de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes) have engaged in working group meetings in order continue to learn together and build upon this initiative.

During the same period, IDC conducted targeted capacity building with civil society organizations whose work was contributing to the development of alternatives to detention in Mexico. Two civil society workshops were held in November 2015, one for organisations  who provide direct services to migrants and one for advocacy organisations. Advocacy organizations were able to identify priorities to promote alternatives and begin to develop shared advocacy strategies. Much of this work focused on ensuring that a legal framework is in place that guarantees the right to personal freedom, and ensuring such safeguards and alternatives to detention are effectively implemented.

For implementing organizations, it was important to be able to place their daily activities responding to migrants’ needs and other case management work within the broader framework of alternatives to detention. This enabled them to understand how their current efforts could contribute to the broader advocacy agenda. Documenting existing positive practices and informal, ad hoc alternatives to detention was identified as a top priority. This will support efforts to highlight alternative ways to conduct effective migration management without resorting to detention.

We have observed how the combination of targeted capacity building and technical assistance, as well as continuous coordination of pilot implementation, has spurred new ideas and collaborations with new stakeholders in favor of preventing unnecessary immigration detention for children. These approaches have also strengthened the scope for implementing alternatives to detention in Mexico.

Now, we seldom hear people say “alternatives to detention won’t be possible in this context”.

The second IDC workshop on alternatives to immigration detention in Mexico, Mexico City, December, 2015


Drawings by children in the pilot alternative care child community model in Mexico.

Drawings by children in the pilot alternative care child community model in Mexico.