Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 17, 2021


U.S. Continues to Violate Indigenous and Human Rights at the Southern Border

Washington – On the occasion of International Migrants Day this Saturday, the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign and the International Mayan League call attention to the U.S. government’s continued human rights violations of Indigenous peoples seeking asylum in the United States. Last week marked the three-year anniversary of the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Maya Q’eqchi’ Indigenous girl who died on the morning of December 8, 2018 under the custody of the U.S. government. Since 2018, there have been five documented cases of Indigenous children dying at the U.S./Mexico border. Last week more than 50 primarily indigenous migrants, including families and children, perished in a horrific truck crash in Chiapas, Mexico. These tragedies are the direct result of the brutal immigration policies of the United States and Mexico, which have blocked safe pathways to protection and placed people seeking asylum in harm’s way.

Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by anti-asylum policies such as Title 42 and Remain in Mexico due to the continued erasure of their Indigenous identities, Indigenous language exclusion within immigration services, anti-Indigeniety racism, and ongoing discrimination they face throughout their journeys. Indigenous women and girls are at heightened risk for sex and human trafficking because of their gender and the ongoing Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (MMIWG) epidemic that impacts them across borders. Since Jakelin’s death in 2018 and despite a change in administrations, the systems in place have not changed. Indigenous erasure continues due to the lack of disaggregated data and the lack of Indigenous language interpretations services provided. On International Day of the Migrant, we remind the administration of its domestic and international law obligations to protect the human rights of all children and people, and guarantee due process within the asylum system. 

“The death of the Indigenous children who died under U.S. custody demands justice for their families, for themselves, and for all Indigenous communities who continue to be impacted by forced displacement,” said Dr. Jessica Hernandez (Maya Ch’orti/Binnizá), Climate Justice Policy Strategist for International Mayan League. “Yet within the immigration discourse, their Indigeneity has been erased, ignored, and hidden. It is time we speak up for Indigenous rights within the immigration discourse and call on the Biden administration to do just by Indigenous peoples of the Americas.” 

“On this International Migrants Day, we reflect on the complex causes for migration and the contributions migrants add to our communities. I urge us to also remember those that perished seeking safety and opportunity, from Jakelin Call Maquin, a seven-year old Maya Q’eqchi’ girl who died inU.S. government custody in 2018, to the 55 people who lost their lives in a crash in southern Mexico just last week. Many of those we lost were from Maya K’iche’ and Ixil Nations,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “Last week’s tragedy is a result of the U.S. and Mexican government’s inhumane and enforcement-centric policies that force migrants to take  dangerous clandestine routes. Policies like Remain in Mexico and Title 42 which return people to danger and deny them the right to seek refuge must end. We call on the governments of the U.S. and Mexico to prioritize the safety of migrants and access to protection. It’s time to move away from deterrence-led policies that violate human rights and result in the loss of lives.”

“On December 8, we marked the third anniversary of the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Maya Qʼeqchiʼ girl who died in U.S. immigration custody.  Unfortunately, there are many more like her, but we may never know due to the lack of transparency, resources, and dignity bestowed upon this community”, said Guerline Jozef, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Haitian Bridge Alliance. “The indigenous community faces unique struggles in their fight to seek protection. Often being met with violence at the U.S.- Mexico border, many risks their identity being erased as they are miscategorized as Hispanic or Latino. The lack of interpreters who speak their native languages creates further barriers. We stand in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters as they continue to mourn. Is it crucial that we understand and find solutions to their plight every day, not only on a day like today.  It is also time that we all in unison hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for all policies that continuously harm this community, including Title 42. We must welcome all with respect and dignity.”

“The deaths of indigenous children in Border Patrol custody sadly converge with those of the 56 migrants, also primarily indigenous persons from Guatemala, who died in Chiapas as the result of a tragic road accident on December 9th. These cases constitute crimes against humanity and cry out for justice,” said Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, on behalf of Witness at the Border,  the International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement, and the Task Force on the Americas of the National Lawyers’ Guild. “As we join together in commemoration of International Migrants Day, we also demand full accountability. The Biden, López Obrador and Giammattei administrations are jointly responsible for these crimes and for their reparation. We stand also today in solidarity with the migrant caravan in Mexico and the Haitian victims of racist state violence at the border.”

 “As a mother, my heart goes out to the indigenous families who have lost a child during their perilous journey to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. In the same vein, I am appalled by the sheer negligence demonstrated by our immigration system, which has resulted in the death of five indigenous children,” said Basma Alawee, Campaign Manager for We Are All America. ” As leaders in the refugee and immigration movement, we must all actively speak up for indigenous rights. We urge Biden to uphold his campaign promise of rebuilding a welcoming infrastructure for asylum-seekers and those seeking refuge. The administration’s commitment to supporting the human rights of asylum seekers can save the lives of indigenous women and children.”

“Indigenous peoples around the world are routinely marginalized, discriminated against, and subject to violence and other abuses because of their Indigenous identity and the defense of their land rights, territory, and environment,” said Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. “This International Migrants Day is a grim reminder that Indigenous lives are under threat and have been lost at the hands of the US government. We call on the Biden Administration to do right by Indigenous communities across the Americas, to recognize and uphold Indigenous rights in the context of immigration, and immediately end policies like Title 42, Migrant Protection Protocols, and the use of arbitrary, mass immigration detention that perpetuate racism and discrimination against Indigenous, Black, and other migrants of color.”

“On International Migrants Day, we mourn the Indigenous children whose deaths in US government custody were preventable,” said Katharina Obser, Migrant Rights and Justice Director for Women’s Refugee Commission. “Tragically, Indigenous people routinely face the erasure of their identities and language in the US immigration system, and this discrimination leads to medical neglect and unjust outcomes. To meet its values and stated goals, the Biden administration must respect the rights of Indigenous and other migrants and treat them with dignity.”

“It is a painful juxtaposition that the anniversary of the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and the ongoing expulsions of asylum seekers at our borders should coincide with International Migrants Day, when we should be honoring our Indigenous communities and affirming our commitment to protecting migrants seeking refuge,” said Nili Sarit Yossinger, Executive Director for Refugee Congress.  We strongly urge President Biden to end the inhumane policies that have resulted in the deaths of Indigenous children in US custody and that continue to cause such irreparable harm. This administration can and absolutely must do better.”

“As an attorney I spoke with and represented many Indigenous asylum seekers who struggled to communicate their desire to seek asylum due to the language and other barriers that prevent many asylum seekers and migrants, but particularly Indigenous peoples, from exercising their legal and human right to seek protection,” said Robyn Barnard, senior advocacy counsel of Human Rights First. “On International Migrants Day, I am thinking of the Indigenous mothers like Gloria, who I met in a family detention center after she had been unlawfully deported to her persecutor in Guatemala despite expressing a fear of return in her native language, who are fighting each day to protect their children and loved ones. On this day—and every day—the United States must stand alongside Indigenous peoples by respecting and upholding their human rights.” 

“This International Migrants Day, we stand in solidarity with indigenous migrants and against their erasure in the immigration system,” said Jennifer Babaie, U.S. Southern Border Project Director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “Not only do indigenous communities face forced displacement across the continent, including from climate change and systemic discrimination, but indigenous migrants encounter additional injustice at the hands of the U.S. immigration system. Today, we mourn the preventable loss of indigenous migrants like Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year old Maya Q’eqchi’ girl who died in U.S. custody, and call on the Biden administration to recognize and respect the rights of indigenous migrants.”

“This International Migrants Day we mourn the tragic and preventable deaths of Indigenous migrants and refugees seeking safety in the United States,” said Felipe Navarro Lux, Manager of Regional Initiatives at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “From the heartbreaking deaths of children in U.S. custody, to last week’s horrific accident in Chiapas, to the suffering brought by Title 42 and Remain in Mexico, this horrific loss of life is the direct result of draconian, racist policies that punish people for seeking protection. Today and every day we urge the Biden administration to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples and welcome all migrants with dignity and fairness.”


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The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign is composed of more than 95 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: