Mexico and the United States disagreed over important aspects of a controversial U.S. deportation program, according to the declassified minutes of a 2011 bilateral meeting involving officials from both sides of the border. The meeting focused on Mexico’s complaints about the Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP), through which the U.S. attempts to disrupt repeated attempts to cross the border by repatriating undocumented migrants to parts of Mexico far from where they originally entered the country.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) declassified its summary of the meeting earlier this year in response to one of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Now, the record might just be the key to unlocking Mexico’s side of the story, which remains shrouded in secrecy.
One of the most exciting aspects of our project is that we get to file access to information requests on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Our hope is that the pursuit of information on parallel tracks—using both the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mexico’s access law—will give us a more complete picture of the policies and security operations that affect the rights of migrants in both countries. Examples of records sought through these kinds of parallel requests include briefing memos and transcripts of bilateral meetings between U.S. and Mexican officials, and documents relating to policies and programs in which both countries play a part, like border security and migrant deportation.
But even more exciting is the prospect that the declassification of records in one country might be used to leverage the release of documents in the other. Here at the Archive, it’s common to use previously declassified records to justify the release of additional documents on similar issues. What’s less common are situations where we have the opportunity to use those same documents to convince a foreign government to open up its files.
Recently, a Mexican citizen working in collaboration with the Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante (Coalition for the Defense of Migrants) and the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional (Binational Defense and Advocacy Program) asked for assistance with a request they’d filed in Mexico for information pertaining to a U.S.-Mexico bilateral working group established to hash out differences over U.S. deportation programs. In response to their request, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) withheld all relevant information, indicating that the responsive documents remained properly classified (reservada) under the law.
Fortunately, the Archive has already succeeded in obtaining a summary of one of the working group meetings as recorded by officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The two-page document is an “After Action Report” of the U.S.-Mexico “Repatriation Technical Working Group” meeting of February 2, 2011. This is the same group that is the subject of the Coalition/PDIB request.
According to the report, the meeting covered Mexico’s objections to certain aspects of U.S. deportation programs, including ATEP and the Mexico Interior Repatriation Program (MIRP). Among the details:
- Mexico “continues to openly express their dislike” for ATEP, and had provided U.S. officials with a “list of complaints” about such issues as inadequate cell space at U.S. Border Patrol facilities and excessive amounts of time spent in U.S. detention.
- Mexico is unhappy with the lack of cell space at U.S. Border Patrol processing centers and the fact that the centers “are not held to the same standard as detention facilities” operated by other agencies.
- The U.S. criticizes the fact that Mexico “continues to solicit complaints only from ATEP participants to demonstrate ‘a trend’ of abuses and problems with the program.”
The Coalition/PDIB has included the CBP document in its appeal to Mexico’s Federal Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) and their decision is due this month (October). Will the fact that the U.S. has declassified information on the working group help convince Mexico to release documents telling their side of the story? Can the Mexican government reasonably deny access to information already revealed in U.S. documents?
We’ll keep you posted.