The Invisible Wall: Obstacles to Protection for Unaccompanied Migrant Children along Mexico’s Southern Border

Publication date: 
July 2019
Kids in Need of Defense logo, which features their acronym in large letters above their spelled out name, in orange and blue. Posted to accompany their report, The Invisible Wall: Obstacles to Protection for Unaccompanied Migrant Children along Mexico’s Southern Border.


Children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are arriving at Mexico’s southern border fleeing high levels of violence, including gang violence and forced recruitment, sexual and gender-based violence, and child abuse. They cannot access justice or protection in their countries due to weak rule of law and widespread corruption and impunity. While some children plan to continue their journeys to other countries to seek protection, many others decide to seek protection in Mexico. Regardless of their choice, children who arrive in southern Mexico need appropriate shelter and medical and mental health services. Rather than provide the protection and services migrant and refugee children need, Mexico holds these children in detention and in most cases rapidly deports them to their country of origin.

Children face multiple barriers to accessing protection and support in southern Mexico, including extended detention in closed-door facilities, lack of child-friendly information on their right to seek asylum, and lack of access to legal representation. The vast majority of children are rapidly deported without a substantive evaluation of their best interests or the dangers they could face upon return to their country of origin. For children who seek asylum in Mexico, Mexico’s refugee agency, COMAR, has limited capacity to process their asylum applications, leading to extended periods of uncertainty as children await decisions on their cases.

Tapachula, a city near Mexico’s southern border and a key point in the migration route for Central Americans traveling to Mexico or the United States, is unsafe for children seeking protection due to precarious living conditions, a lack of support services, discrimination by the local population and government institutions, and in some cases the presence of the persecutors they fled in their countries of origin.

In addition, as Mexico further intensifies and militarizes immigration enforcement at its southern border in response to U.S. pressure, massive detention and rapid deportation of migrants, including unaccompanied children, are dramatically increasing.