Hundreds of migrants travelling in a US-bound caravan in the southern state of Chiapas, as well as others in the region, were detained on Saturday, despite many carrying official Mexican government documents that grant them the right to be in the state. Immigrant rights groups are raising alarm over the recent detention of hundreds of migrants and documented asylum seekers in southern Mexico. Many of the detentions came after National Guard troops blocked a key highway 30km (18 miles) north of Tapachula, and stopped the caravan, which included more than 1,000 African, Afro-Caribbean and Central American migrants. Detainees were taken to the Siglo XXI immigration detention centre in Tapachula.
Mexican advocates and activists held a protest against the crackdown on Thursday in Mexico City, declaring "we are not the wall".
"It is an outright war on migrants," said Luis Garcia, a lawyer working with the Center for Human Dignity, a migrant and inmate rights group in Tapachula, Chiapas. "They are treating migrants as enemies instead of as clients." He added,
It is a complete abuse of authority. Most of the people detained have authorisation documents from [the Mexican Refugee Assistance Commission, COMAR] that permit them to be anywhere in Chiapas."
The Central Americans reported abusive treatment inside Siglo XXI but said African, Haitian, Garifuna and other black migrants and asylum seekers were subject to greater discrimination, worse treatment, and extended detention.
"We are being treated like animals," Kama*, an asylum-seeking migrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo living in a pan-African protest camp outside Siglo XXI, told Al Jazeera.
For more than a month, African migrants have held protests outside Siglo XXI and marches in Tapachula, calling for authorisation to transit through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States or Canada.
Mexican immigration officials used to issue African and some other US-bound migrants with temporary transit permits that allowed them to travel north to the US border. But in recent months, the documents restrict travel to the state of Chiapas, only permitting exit from Mexico via its southern border with Guatemala, prompting the protests. Initial COMAR documents issued in Chiapas also restrict travel to the state.
We want the government to treat us as human beings," Ze, an Angolan migrant who hopes to seek asylum in the US, told Al Jazeera.'
The detentions come as Mexico continues to ramp up its efforts to stem the flow of migrants travelling through Mexico towards the US border. Migrants have told Al Jazeera they are fleeing violence, political persecution, and extreme poverty. Many hope to make it to the US southern border to seek asylum. Trump has made hardline immigration policies, putting pressure on Mexico and Central American governments to stem the flow of migrants and asylumseekers to the US. After Trump threatened to impose tariffs earlier this year, Mexico deployed thousands of troops from the incipient National Guard to southern border regions and stopped issuing northbound temporary transit permits in Chiapas. Rights groups say Mexico is doing too much to placate Trump and that the Mexican government has adopted similar "racist" policies.
"This policy of helping Donald Trump is a criminal policy," Garcia told Al Jazeera "It is increasingly intensifying. We do not know how far it will go."