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As Candidates Spar on Immigration, Rights Groups Sue for Answers

U.S. and Mexican rights groups sue State Department to find out how much it's paying to stop migrants from reaching borders

Protesters march for immigration reform and an end to deportations in May 2011. (Photo: Susan Ruggles/flickr/cc)

A coalition of human rights groups has filed a lawsuit to find out just how much the U.S. State Department is paying the government of Mexico to stop migrants and refugees from reaching the U.S. border.

The lawsuit was filed by the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, along with other organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, to identify what kind of financial aid the State Department is giving Mexico's National Institute of Migration (INM), and whether migrants being held in detention centers are actually given the chance to seek asylum as required by human rights law.

The Guardian reports:

Detentions have surged since Mexico launched the Southern Front Plan in July 2014 just days after Barack Obama declared the surge in unaccompanied Central American child migrants seeking refuge on the us child migrants a humanitarian crisis.

[....] Public documents show that the US State Department initially provided $86m to train the security forces and modernise inspection and communication equipment. But it is unclear how much from the $2.5bn Merida Initiative and other aid programmes have been redirected towards tightening Mexico’s southern border and stopping the flow of migrants.

According to Alex Martínez, a former head of the INM, the kickback scheme is a new development. "The Americans started paying Mexico in the past three years, this didn’t happen before," Martínez told the Guardian's Nina Lakhani.

The lawsuit, filed this week, alleges that the State Department's silence on the issue is "shrouding U.S. support for Mexico's unlawful interdiction program in secrecy."

Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential candidates are ratcheting up their focus on immigration as voting days approach in Nevada and South Carolina. During the Democratic debate in Milwaukee on Thursday night, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders promised comprehensive reform of immigration policies and hit at each other's records on the issue.

Clinton noted that Sanders had voted against Sen. Ted Kennedy's 2007 immigration bill, which proponents said created a pathway to citizenship, but Sanders countered that human rights groups were opposed to the bill over its expansion of exploitative guest worker programs.

He challenged Clinton's recent statements that the government "had to send a message to the families and the communities in Central America not to send their children on this dangerous journey" and her call to deport child migrants back to their home countries.

"I don’t know to whom you're sending a message," Sanders said Thursday. "Who are you sending a message to? These are children who are leaving countries and neighborhoods where their lives are at stake. I don’t think I would use them to send a message. I think we welcome them into this country and do the best we can to help get their lives together."

Watch the exchange:

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