Human Rights and Civil Society

Mexico’s National Institute of Migration Ordered to Separate Migrant Families

03/27/2023 (written by abrizuela) – The staff of Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) has been ordered by the head of the organization, Francisco Garduño, to separate the children of migrants from their mothers and fathers if they try to cross the northern border into the United States. The INM maintains that they are protecting the integrity of the children during their time in Mexico by separating them from their families. While in Oaxaca, Francisco Garduño, justified the new policy by claiming the migrant children are put at risk due to the “recklessness” of their families. Furthermore, Garduño stated “I have given instructions for the children to be taken from the parents, in order to protect their superior interest as children. We are not going to risk the integrity and lives of the children by leaving them to their parents. The state must protect this right and be very vigilant.” (author’s translation) (IMER Noticias) 

Milenio reports that the INM’s recent decision has provoked a large outcry from Mexican civil society, particularly amongst organizations that defend the rights of migrants. Many activists perceive the order to be unjust, inhumane, and a blatant violation of human rights. Ana Karen Parra Bonilla, president of the Hidalgo State Human Rights Commission, argued that the INM is not legally authorized to separate families passing through Mexico. In the event that immigration authorities follow Garduño’s instructions, they could enter into a court battle. Bonilla also stated “regardless of where these kids are from or where they are going, they have rights and these rights travel with them.” (authors translation) The INM has also been criticized for its lack of adequate facilities to support an order of this nature, as they must provide food and housing to the migrant children after they are separated from their families. It is important to note that the children of migrants oftentimes lack proper documentation, which could make it harder for them to be returned to their families after their separation. 

Increased Migration to Mexico

This decision comes as Mexico is facing increased pressure from large waves of migration. In January of 2023, 36,147 migrants were recorded in Mexico, a number that is 54.6% higher than January of last year. The number of children and adolescent migrants in Mexico has also increased since last year by 43.5%. Many of these people are migrating from Central and South America, fleeing countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

U.S. “Zero Tolerance” Policy

On April 6, 2018, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) implemented a “zero tolerance” policy that resembles the INM’s order to separate migrant families. The DOJ ordered the detention of all migrants that crossed the border illegally. Moreover, all accompanying children under the age of 18 were separated from their parents and handed over to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). After the migrant children were given to the HHS, they were relocated to Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters or other care centers across the country. Hundreds of the children were only infants and toddlers, and the decision sparked outrage as the grim conditions of the shelters were released to the public. (SPLC)

 On June 19, 2018, The Mexican government responded to the “zero tolerance” policy, expressing “the most categorical and energetic condemnation of the U.S. government policy of separating migrant families.” Mexico even called upon the international community and multilateral organizations to respond to the situation, denouncing the situation to the U.N. Human Rights System. Former president Donald Trump responded to mounting public pressure on June 20, 2018, and directed the Department of Homeland Security to stop separating families except in cases where the parent represents a risk to the child. 

Critics have compared the INM’s recent order to the United State’s zero tolerance policy. Fortino López, the president of the International Association of Human Rights, warns, “Mexico cannot repeat what the United States government did years ago.” (author’s translation, Milenio)


“Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks Discussing the Immigration Enforcement Actions of the Trump Administration.” The United States Department of Justice. May 7, 2018. 

Family Separation: A Timeline.” SPLC. March 23, 2022.

“Injusta e inhumana, postura de separar a niños migrantes de sus padres: defensores de derechos humanos.” Milenio. March 16, 2023.

“INM le quitará sus hijos a migrantes que intenten cruzar la frontera con EU.” IMER Noticias. March 14, 2023.–ObPU6HN8qDbeWWVIhgm_o6u31MicBEydyEd7RqGdSELELA

Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores. “The Mexican Government Condemns U.S. Policy of Separating Migrant Families.” Gobierno de México. June 19, 2018.

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