According to Mexican legislation, as a general rule, all migrants who enter or stay in the country without the proper documentation are at risk of being detained — including children. Even though the current Immigration Law (2011) states that all children traveling without their parents or guardians should be transferred to the national child welfare system (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF) to receive appropriate attention, care and protection, the majority of children are detained and then returned to their country of origen.

Most children held in immigration detention in Mexico come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They leave their countries for numerous and multiple reasons, including violence, abuse, poverty, abandonment, a lack of educational opportunities and to be reunited with family members.



Mexico has the largest immigration detention center in Latin America


Immigration detention centers in Mexico are called ‘Migration Stations’ (Estaciones Migratorias) or ‘Temporary Stay Centers’ (Estancias Provisionales). There are more than 50 immigration detention centers in the country. The largest immigration detention center in Mexico — also the largest in Latin America–is in Tapachula, Chiapas. It can deprive more than 900 people of their freedom. Many of these people are children and adolescents.



Map from microsite La Ruta del Encierro 



More resources channeled to immigration detention

In 2014, unprecedented numbers of children left their countries without their parents or guardians and headed toward Mexico and the United States. The Mexican government has responded to this increased movement by channelling more resources to operations to find and detain irregular migrants, as well as to toughening control mechanisms at their southern border (see, for example, this article on Mexico’s Southern Border Program and the report Mexico’s Other Border: Security, Migration, and the Humanitarian Crisis at the line with Central Americaboth by the Washington Office on Latin America).

That year, Mexican authorities detained 23,096 migrant children, more than double those detained in 2013. The trend seems to be continuing. According to the most recent statistics available, authorities detained 4,196 children in January and February of 2015, almost reaching double those detained the first two months of 2014 (which was 2,150).


Children in Immigration Detention in Mexico (2011-2014)

Source: Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova. “Chapter 6: Southern Mexico.” In  Childhood and Migration in Central and North America: Causes, Policies, Practices and Challenges, p. 238.



The wellbeing of migrant children in this region depends on the development of alternatives to detention in Mexico



Learn more about immigration detention of children in Mexico:




Info-graphic on number of persons held in immigration detention centers in Mexico in 2014. Also available in Spanish


The Cost of Stemming the Tide: How Immigration Enforcement Practices in Southern Mexico Limit Migrant Children’s Access to International Protection (2015)

This report by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute highlights the many consequences of Mexico’s increased used of immigration detention and enforcement in response to recent increased migration by Central American children traveling alone to Mexico and the United States.


Dignity without Exception: Alternatives to Immigration Detention in Mexico (2013)

The International Detention Coalition’s report presents findings from research carried on in 2012 on the possibility of developing alternatives to immigration detention in Mexico. Section 3.1 focuses specifically on children and adolescents. Summary Report in English.


Childhood and Migration in Central and North America: Causes, Policies, Practices and Challenges (2015)

This study highlights immigration detention as one of the most concerning child rights violations in the region. Chapters 6 and 7 focus specifically on Mexico and were written by the Programa de Defensa e Incidencia Binacional, the Coalición Pro-Defensa del Migrante, and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova.


End Immigration Detention of Children

This video shares stories from children who have been locked up in immigration detention centres in Mexico. The video was created by the Colectivo de Apoyo para Personas Migrantes, A.C. (COAMI).


Assessment study of the National Migration Institute Executive Summary

This assessment study by the Institute for Security and Democracy (INSYDE) offers a glimpse into the conditions that endanger many migrants in Mexico. The research shows how the National Migration Institute (INM) displays structural deficiencies that call into question its very functionality, particularly in view of the standards of the new Migration Law.



A one page summary highlighting the results from UNHCR-led research with Central American children held in immigration detention centres in Mexico. The full report in Spanish Arrancados de Raíz also shares drawings and testimonies from the children.





Alternativas a la detención migratoria, en Serapaz. Rompeviento TV

Diálogo con Elba Coria y Gisele Bonnici, la Coalición Internacional contra la Detención, y Mónica Oehler, Sin Fronteras

Espiral – Niñas y niños migrantes

Diálogo con Sofía Almazán, Casa Alianza México; Michelle Brané, Women’s Refugee Commission; René Zenteno, La Universidad de Texas en San Antonio; y Gisele Bonnici, la Coalición Internacional contra la Detención


Menores Migrantes: México Cierra la Puerta a una Generación que Huye de la Violencia

Esta segunda parte de una serie sobre los niños, niñas y adolescentes migrantes realizada por Animal Político comparte enfoca en la detención, compartiendo información, testimonios de niños migrantes y entrevistas a actores de la sociedad civil.


La Ruta del Encierro: Situación de las personas en detención en estaciones migratorias y estancias provisionales (2014)

El informe (acompañado por un micrositio) da cuenta del monitoreo realizado por el equipo psicosocial y legal de Sin Fronteras, que tuvo dos objetivos principales: contribuir al conocimiento y consiguiente ejercicio de los derechos de las personas migrantes y solicitantes de asilo privadas de la libertad y conocer de forma directa las condiciones de detención en México.


Niñez Detenida: Los Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Adolescentes Migrantes en la Frontera México-Guatemala  (2012)

Una colaboración entre la Universidad Nacional de Lanús y el Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova, el informe aborda el impacto que tienen dos de los principales mecanismos de la política migratoria mexicana cuando se trata de niños, niñas y adolescentes migrantes: la detención y la repatriación o expulsión.


Plataforma “Migración y Transparencia”

Coordinado por Fundar Centro de Análisis e Investigación, la plataforma “Migración y Transparencia” contiene información desclasificada del gobierno mexicano sobre migración y políticas migratorias. El objetivo de esta plataforma es maximizar la transparencia en la política migratoria de México. Ver el videoblog sobre cómo utilizar la plataforma.


Mujeres Migrantes en Tránsito Irregular por México (2014)

Esta gráfica realizada por el Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI) presenta datos sobre las mujeres migrantes en tránsito irregular por México. Resalta que a su paso por México las mujeres migrantes son víctimas, principalmente, de tres tipos de agresiones:violencia física, sexual y psicológica, y muchas veces están en riesgo de ser detenidas.



*All facts relating the number of detained children are from official statistics  from the Mexican Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación): Tables 3.1.3 and 3.1.5 in “Boletines Estadísticos

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