Migrant caravan illustrates greater accountability for U.S. immigration policy south of the border is needed

OTG joins openness advocates, human rights defenders and journalists in Mexico forum

As a caravan of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants journey north towards the U.S.-Mexico border, advocates are aligning efforts to increase access to information on immigration enforcement practices in both countries. The relentless misinformation surrounding the caravan shows the serious secrecy challenges faced by groups working to defend migrant rights. Last week, Open The Government joined a forum in Mexico that brought together a network of information advocates, human rights defenders and journalists working on government accountability initiatives that span borders.

The forum began as Mexico’s police forces used tear gas on migrant families in an effort to prevent the caravan from crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border. The use of force against migrant families raises concerns that Mexico is taking direction from Washington and implementing a hardline policy against asylum seeking migrants. Monitors of the caravan have also accused the Mexican government of withholding information from aid groups and blocking entry of migrants in violation of international law.

During the forum, OTG discussed how transparency laws have helped uncover documents that demonstrate the connection between U.S. security assistance and systemic abuses against migrants in Mexico. The documents shed light on U.S. counter-drug aid pouring into Mexico’s security forces—the same forces responsible for extortion, kidnappings, and massacres of migrants traveling north.

On the taxpayers’ dime, private companies have also reaped enormous profits from opaque U.S. government contracts for programs to build up Mexico’s security apparatus over the years. In addition to training, Washington has contracted out programs to expand Mexico’s wiretap capabilities, and to provide Mexico with biometric databases, surveillance aircrafts, satellites, all-terrain vehicles, Blackhawk helicopters (like the ones seen flying over the migrant caravan), and more. While FOIA has its limitations when it comes to prying information out of the hands of private contractors, groups like the National Security Archive have used the law to expose the role of companies in Mexico’s security build-up. Major players like General Electric, Raytheon, Motorola, Sharp, IBM, Dell, and scores of others, all appear as the sources of the equipment in declassified cables obtained through FOIA.

Through the power of FOIA, obtained documents have made national and international headlines and have fueled calls for top-level immigration officials to resign. OTG shared those documents at the forum, as well as our FOIA guide as a tool for journalists and advocates looking to collaborate on FOIA across borders to expose government abuse and corporate influence.

In an era of stunning government secrecy, the forum provided a spotlight on growing cross-border civil society initiatives working to defend the public’s right to know and hold the U.S. and Mexican government accountable.