On February 19th, President Obama will travel to Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico to join President Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Harper of Canada for the annual North American Leaders’ Summit (NALS). Touted as a trade summit, these bi- and tri-lateral talks are expected to focus on issues surrounding commerce, energy, and trade, including the now 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
However, this summit will be a missed opportunity if several key issues central to the well-being of communities across the region are not on the table. Today, LAWG joined with human rights organizations from Mexico and the United States to issue a letter to the three leaders calling for them to use these trilateral discussions as an opportunity to chart out new approaches toward immigration, economic, environmental, and security policy to better protect and promote the rights and well-being of people across North America.
The letter calls for action to address the harms brought by the militarization of public security, noting that the uptick in human rights violations has affected both Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike. The letter notes, “Although daily reports from the media and civil society organizations reflect a growing tally of individuals who are killed and disappeared, for the most part authorities at all levels of government fail to acknowledge these denunciations.”
The letter calls for leaders to examine the human toll of an increasingly militarized border and lack of meaningful immigration reform in the U.S. This, combined with a lack of economic opportunities and deteriorating security conditions in communities across Mexico and Central America, have spurred migrants to seek increasingly clandestine migrant routes that place them in harm’s way.
Current policies have had a particularly harmful impact on women and families. The letter notes that 31,450 Mexican women were deported from the United States in fiscal year 2012. More than just a number, these deportations can mean “family separation, the loss of the custody of their children, the inability to legally return to the United States, and challenges with reintegrating into their country of origin, navigating procedures related to the child welfare system in the United States, and gaining access to education and health care in Mexico for their U.S.-citizen children.”
This is all not to say that civil society organizations do not want a discussion of the economy at this summit. Acknowledging a “deterioration in living conditions for people in Mexico, growing marginalization and poverty,” groups call for leaders to take a look at existing economic policies and “rethink the regional economic model in a way that responds to the needs of the people, not just the economic interests of a select few.”