July 30, 2008

Mexico federal police to escort migrant transfers

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican federal police will guard all government vehicles transporting detained migrants after gunmen hijacked a bus carrying 33 Cubans, the government said Wednesday.

Immigration officers previously could ask police for extra security while transporting illegal migrants to detention centers or back to their home countries. Federal police presence will now be mandatory for all such trips, said Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino.

Gunmen seized the detained Cubans on June 11 after forcing unarmed immigration officials and two drivers off a bus heading to an immigration detention center in southern Mexico. Some of the Cubans were later found in Texas.

Two immigration officials were later fired because they contradicted themselves under questioning in the case.

Cubans are increasingly going through Mexico to get to the United States, hoping to avoid detection by U.S. Coast Guard officials. Mexican and U.S. officials say violent criminal organizations are often involved.

Mexico also has long been a transit route for Central and South Americans trying to get to the United States. On Tuesday, two Ecuadorean migrants died during a shootout between authorities and suspected smugglers.

Mourino said federal police will also help guard immigration detention centers, if necessary.

"All around migration routes, there are criminal bands that profit from human suffering," Mourino said. "Migrants are exposed to many dangers, and it's our duty to protect them."

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