Immigration Detention in Mexico (2021)

The Global Detention Project’s report on immigration detention in Mexico provides an in-depth analysis of the country’s practices and policies regarding the detention of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. It highlights Mexico’s complex migratory situation, serving as a source, transit, and destination country. Despite its humanitarian rhetoric, Mexico has developed one of the world’s largest immigration detention infrastructures, with nearly 60 detention centers as of 2020.

Key Findings

  1. High Detention Rates: In 2019, Mexico detained over 180,000 people for migration-related reasons, one of the highest totals globally.
  2. Detention Practices: Unlike many countries, Mexico does not impose criminal sanctions for unauthorized entry or stay and does not use prisons for migration enforcement. However, euphemisms are often employed to describe detention practices.
  3. Child Detention: Reforms in late 2020 prohibited child detention, but skepticism remains due to Mexico’s history of detaining large numbers of children (over 50,000 in 2019).
  4. COVID-19 Impact: The pandemic led to protests over sanitary conditions, resulting in a significant decrease in detainees by April 2020.
  5. U.S. Influence: U.S. immigration policies, particularly under the Trump administration, significantly impacted Mexico’s detention practices.

Detention Infrastructure

Mexico’s immigration detention system consists of both long-term and short-term facilities, primarily concentrated in the south. These facilities, known as “estaciones migratorias” and “estancias provisionales,” differ from criminal prisons and are governed by the 2011 Migration Law. Reports indicate poor conditions, overcrowding, and inadequate healthcare in many centers.

Legal Framework

The 2011 Migration Law and its subsequent amendments form the legal basis for immigration detention. This law, while providing certain rights and protections, allows for indefinite detention in some cases and has been criticized for its lack of clarity and potential for abuse.

Children and Vulnerable Groups

Mexico’s treatment of child migrants has been a significant concern, with high detention rates despite legal prohibitions. The 2020 reforms aimed to shift the custody of migrant children from immigration authorities to family development agencies, but practical implementation remains uncertain. Additionally, the law provides protections for other vulnerable groups, including victims of trafficking and crime.

Procedural Standards and Challenges

The Mexican Constitution and Migration Law outline basic procedural standards and rights for detainees, including access to justice, consular protection, and medical care. However, reports indicate frequent violations of these rights and standards in practice.


While Mexico has taken steps to reform its immigration detention system, challenges remain, particularly in the effective implementation of legal protections and standards. The influence of external factors, such as U.S. policies, and internal factors like capacity and resource limitations, continue to shape the country’s approach to immigration detention.


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