FOIA Notes

FOIA NOTES: Declassified U.S. Cable Cited in Decision to Overturn Migration Institute’s “Inexistence” Claim

IFAI Commissioner Jacqueline Peschard

Citing information in a declassified U.S. State Department cable, Mexico’s information commissioners have overturned a determination by the country’s National Migration Institute (INM) that it did not have records on the 2008 visit of Ambassador Mark Lagon, then the top U.S. official in charge of monitoring and combating human trafficking.

The case stems from a 2013 request submitted by the National Security Archive for briefing papers and other documentation pertaining to his meetings with INM officials during a visit to Tapachula, Chiapas, near Mexico’s southern border. The Archive included the January 2008 U.S. Embassy Mexico cable in its appeal of INM’s determination that such records do not exist.

The Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) also cited other information, including several news articles on the visit, in its 44-page ruling, overseen by Commissioner Jacqueline Peschard, and ordered INM to undertake additional, more exhaustive searches for responsive documents. Given the declassified and public information available confirming the visit and naming the Mexican officials with whom Lagon met, IFAI said it “had no certainty that [INM] had exhausted all possible methods to locate the requested information and, as a consequence, INM was not in compliance” with Mexico’s federal access to information law.

The decision opens the door for the expanded use of U.S. declassified material to leverage the release of information in Mexico in the face of persistent stonewalling from some Mexican federal agencies. One migrant rights advocate and frequent user of the Mexican access law told Migration Declassified that they had “hit a wall this year with our access to information strategy, and a lot of it is due to the fact that the INM is declaring that it does not have the information we are seeking.”

The declassified document cited in the IFAI ruling is a detailed summary from the U.S. Embassy Mexico on Lagon’s January 2008 visit. Amb. Lagon, who was the Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. State Department, met with an array of top-ranking Mexican officials, according to the cable, including INM Commissioner Cecilia Romero, who resigned in the wake of the August 2010 massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, and other INM officials.

Romero told Lagon that Mexico faced a number of challenges in the implementation of a law to combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), according to the cable, including: “lack of funds to support the new law, insufficient public awareness about the issue, and under-trained law enforcement officials to address the psychological needs of a TIP victim.”

Other, unnamed, INM officials working in the Mexico-Guatemala border area told Lagon that there were “segments of the border without security officials to regulate the flow of products or people into the country, stressing the need for better technology and manpower to combat illegal activities,” according to the Embassy report.

We should know soon whether INM is able to comply with IFAI’s order and produce responsive documentation from the Mexican side and will update this site accordingly.

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