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Judicial Cooperation to Protect Migrants

AP Photo

September 30, 2010

A gut-wrenching headline in The New York Times said it all: "Victims of Massacre in Mexico Said to be Migrants." The story continued, “the bullet-pocked bodies of 72 people, believed to be migrants heading to the U.S. who resisted demands for money, have been found…in an area of northeast Mexico.”

The dialogue around lawlessness that revolves around cartel violence and human trafficking has focused almost solely on the U.S.-Mexico perspective. However, when more closely examined, it is an issue affecting people throughout the Americas. It just so happens that the U.S.-Mexico border is the most indelible image of a long northward trek and the final scene of human tragedy for too many migrants.

It is widely accepted that migration should be a matter of choice rather than one of necessity. Yet more often than not, migration is driven by economics. The context remains constant; people follow opportunity and the hope of a better life.

So why does a border event in Mexico resonate throughout the Americas? The migrant flow does not begin nor end with the Unites States and Mexico. It starts in countries like Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Ecuador. The common denominator is that this trail flows through Mexico toward the United States. And for criminals, it provides an opportunity for extortion and a flagrant disregard for human life. It is a numbers game—cold hard cash. It occurs in places where bringing criminals to justice is in its infancy.

Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in addressing cartel violence, said that for stability, Mexico needs a combination of “improved institutional capacity… married to political will.”

Now more than ever it is time to build on a solid start established between the U.S. and Mexico. In 2008, the Mexican government in collaboration with the Council of Western Attorneys General (CWAG), the Council of State Governments (CSG), the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) joined forces to create the Alliance Partnerships. The goal was to collaborate with Mexican counterparts in order to create and promote justice reform. This was to be done on a state-by-state basis since roughly 93 percent of all criminal cases are adjudicated in Mexican states.

The proposed justice reforms succeed when state justice officials—prosecutors, investigators, forensic technicians and judges—learn to work in a justice system that gives the accused and the prosecutor the opportunity to state their cases in a thorough and transparent setting. In the case of the Alliance Partnership, peer relationships are being established between U.S. and Mexican attorneys general and their staffs. The direct benefit to the U.S. is an increase in state-to-state investigative cooperation, the apprehension of fugitives, and accountability in the Mexican legal system.

Consider what is already occurring. Over the past year, U.S. attorney generals and state law enforcement officials have led hands-on training for over 1,000 prosecutors, detectives, and law enforcement officials from all 31 Mexican states. These training include officers from the Mexico Federal Police and Military Justice. And this year plans are in place to train over 2,000 participants.

As one of many examples of successful cooperation, in May 2010 the Chihuahua attorney general received information regarding a suspected drug syndicate assassin who had illegally entered the U.S. and was residing in Longmont, Colorado. Following up on this tip, John Suthers, Colorado’s attorney general, directed local and federal agents in the apprehension of the suspect.

The actions of the Alliance Partnerships have established a foundation for greater security by protecting the United States in the context of the rule of law. The partnership is a vital component relative to border security and the war against the cartels and human traffickers. It is also responsible for enabling a means of protecting victims from across the Americas who are in the crosshairs of such criminals.

For migrants, the efforts of the Alliance Partnerships establish a foundation for justice. It has the goal, and maybe more appropriately the mission, of putting a face on the victims of human crime and ultimately delivering justice and protection for those who can least afford to advocate for their rights under the law. And with continued support and growth, this historic initiative gives hope to migrants that the headlines of the recent past will not be repeated.

Fred Niehaus is senior vice president of global public affairs for Western Union.