News Latin America Alejandro Solalinde: “Marcelo Ebrard knows nothing about migration”

Alejandro Solalinde: “Marcelo Ebrard knows nothing about migration”

Father Alejandro Solalinde, in a file photo.Mireya Novo (Dark Room)

Alejandro Solalinde and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, when they get together, like to discuss Jesus Christ. The priest, once considered one of the greatest defenders of the rights of migrants in Mexico, and the President of the Republic, find a common reference in the face of Christianity. “He is passionate about Jesus and so am I, but not the stamped Jesus, but that Jesus who is in the gospels, who questions the Church and the whole world. That is the one I follow and also Andres Manuel”. Solalinde (78 years old) defines herself as “on the left, an agent of change and a revolutionary, but peaceful and democratic.” He has been running the Hermanos en el Camino shelter in Oaxaca for almost two decades, where he welcomes foreigners who cross the country on their journey north and the promise of a more dignified future. But since the current leader took office in 2018, many have been critical of the missionary. They say that he is one of the men who whispers in the president’s ear. His conspiracy theories about a “black hand” that allegedly financed the caravans of Central Americans to destabilize the Government did not help either.

On March 27, a fire in a migrant prison of the National Institute of Migration (Inami) in Ciudad Juarez resulted in the death of 40 people, overcrowded and locked in their cells. A video revealed how the immigration agents fled the place without trying to help the prisoners. It was not the first tragedy for which Inami, a body shadowed by reports of abuses and violations of human rights, was responsible. The authorities arrested Rear Admiral Salvador Gonzalez Guerrero, head of the Inami in Chihuahua, six other workers from the institution, a guard from the private company that worked in the center and one of the migrants, who allegedly started the fire. The head of the organization, Francisco Garduno, will appear next Tuesday before a judge. With the crisis, Solalinde emerged as a kind of unofficial government spokesperson. Without having a position, after a meeting with Lopez Obrador, he affirmed that Inami was going to disappear and in its place the National Coordination of Immigration and Immigration Affairs would be created, a new entity about which there are still more doubts than certainties.

Ask. What did the president and you talk about in that meeting?

I told the president: ‘Brother, you cannot allow this institute that has done so much damage, that has repressed migrants, to continue to exist. It has to end, it has to transform’. With the same budget as Inami, but you have to separate the security aspect and the administrative aspect, because there is a lot of corruption there. [Lopez Obrador] He said, ‘Okay, let’s detail it. He strongly insisted on finding an excellent executive secretary in everything, who knows migration issues perfectly, who is a person with a theoretical and practical background, incorruptible.

Q. Who?

R. I can’t tell you, he has to say it, but you’ll see him soon.

Q. What candidates are there?

Q. You speak of a meeting before the fire in Ciudad Juarez, but afterwards you met the president again. What did they discuss then?

R. The only effect produced by this tragedy is an acceleration, a speed that this must be done because it is urgent now. That was like an alarm, a sign that things couldn’t and shouldn’t continue to be like this. We are making progress on the proposal and the president will process it this weekend. He is already making important decisions.

Q. For example?

Q. Is the Comar going to disappear?

Q. You always said that you did not want to work for a State. What has changed so that now you do consider having a role in this new body?

R. [Se rie] I haven’t changed anything. Now that this is coming up, the first thing that comes to the president’s mind is to invite me as an honorary coordinator. What we want is to take advantage of my leadership experience to be able to help these changes. Maybe I don’t need to be a civil servant to achieve this and I can participate in another way. I think it will be resolved next week or in about 15 days.

Q. So can you guarantee that the Inami will completely disappear?

R. Yes absolutely.

“There will no longer be detention centers or hunts for migrants as there was with Inami”

Q. You also said that you were not going to continue the militarization of the immigration strategy. It is hard to imagine the current Mexican immigration policy without the presence of the National Guard or the Army.

R. There would be a separation of the security aspect and the administrative aspect. The new Coordination of Immigration and Immigration Affairs would correspond to the administrative area. The Security Secretariat would be in charge of the Armed Forces. But no longer in this priority policy of containment and detention. The administrative aspect would be the most important: instances of orientation, information and accompaniment that would serve to guide the migrants. And from there, from their stay, not jail, because it has to be with open doors, they would have to decide how they leave. There will no longer be detention centers or hunts for migrants as there was with Inami.

Q. What will happen to Tapachula, considered by civil organizations as an open-air prison for thousands of migrants, held by the Armed Forces?

R. All these are urgent, circumstantial issues, but not structural. I am talking about the structure, the system, the configuration of a new migratory entity.

Q. Tapachula is a clear symptom of a structural problem.

R. Structural, but earlier.

Q. In previous governments, Tapachula was not the migrant retention center that it has been in this Administration.

R. If, according. Tapachula is a temporary effect of a system, but the system is going to change.

Q. On the fire in Ciudad Juarez: Is the responsibility solely Garduno’s or should it escalate higher?

R. No, it cannot escalate because it is not a state crime. It is the exclusive responsibility of Inami, which took on a basically security profile as a result of pressure from the United States. Inami has always been with euphemisms. Stop the euphemisms. Call things by their name. They call accommodation what prisons are and security what are arrests. The fire in Ciudad Juarez is not justified in any way. I have talked very frequently with the commissioner [Garduno]. I asked him to resign. But I am nobody more than a defender of human rights. He spoke to her not as someone with political or legal authority, but as a moral authority. And he told me, ‘I’m not going to quit.’ I also told him for a long time that changes had to be made in the Inami. ‘I’m not going to change anything.’ I don’t want to believe that he is a person of bad faith. But he believed that with the pressures from the United States being put up with, someone had to do the dirty work. He was the expendable. He is not a criminal person. I believe that none of them thought that with these policies, these prison structures, they could cause a misfortune the size of Ciudad Juarez. But that happened. Now that they have learned that they have to change, we are working on four things: clarifying the truth, justice, compensation for damages, and non-repetition.

Q. You paint it as if Inami were an autonomous entity that did not answer to higher authorities. During the six-year term of Enrique Pena Nieto, he assured that the president was responsible for kidnapping migrants. With that logic, couldn’t we say that Lopez Obrador is responsible for the deaths in Ciudad Juarez?

R. There is a big difference between one and the other. Pena Nieto is a highly corrupt person. His entire government was corrupt and I saw it from the inside. We cannot say that the president compares. He is an honest person who would never agree to such a tragedy.

“The fire in Ciudad Juarez is not justified in any way”

Q. If 40 people die in a center that is under the responsibility of the State, the State has to assume its responsibility.

R. Responsibility, yes, but not guilt. It’s very different. For the State to be responsible, it needs to participate willingly. The state did not intervene. We have a very good immigration law, very good regulations. Nor did the entire body of the Executive intervene. The responsibility is charged to Inami because it was administratively located in [la Secretaria de] Governorate. But when the threats and pressures of Donald Trump come, he is removed from his natural administrative environment and puts himself under the authority of Marcelo Ebrard, that is, of [la Secretaria de] External relationships. Ebrard is the one who was leading the negotiations with Trump, and Trump wanted Mexico to be a safer country, to pay for the wall, and that was not the case. It was negotiated that Mexico could accept a containment policy as the lesser evil. Inami walks alone because Ebrard knows nothing about migration. I never remember a single meeting that we have attended with Ebrard on immigration.

Q. There are many experts and NGOs who argue that Mexico never built the wall that Trump requested, but instead put the Armed Forces on the borders.

R. That’s what I’m telling you, it’s the lesser evil, it had to be done. Now that would be impossible. That is why we are already changing our policies, we are thinking of another type of human immigration treatment. Although it is true that Mexico also has the right to take care of its borders like any other country, because it is not going to welcome inconvenient people or who could put the security of the country or the neighboring country at risk.

“Garduno’s management at the helm of Inami has been disastrous”

Q. What personal opinion does Francisco Garduno deserve you?

R. His management has been disastrous.

Q. I imagine that you are aware that there are many sectors of the population that feel disappointed that you have been critical of previous governments and that you maintain such a strong defense with this Administration.

R. This government is not as corrupt as the previous ones. This president is not corrupt like the previous ones. My way of fighting was very drastic back then because there was no other way to do it. I changed my protests, my demonstrations, the marches I did, for a surgical strategy. High level. I have not stopped advocating. None of those who criticize me have been doing that. Protesting is not the same as proposing. I’ve been proposing and I’ve been biding my time.

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