CRS Work in Mexico
Catholic Relief Services seeks to promote human dignity and address systemic injustice in Mexico by responding to the immediate needs of the most vulnerable, advocating for just policies, and promoting solidarity between the people of Mexico and the United States.
To accomplish this, CRS Mexico provides services and support to migrants, who are among the most vulnerable groups in the country. We also assist small-scale farmers and workers, particularly those who have been most severely impacted by economic globalization trends. Other programming addresses microfinance along Mexico's border with the United States, worker rights and peacebuilding. CRS Mexico also builds relationships between dioceses, farmers and youth in both countries.
High unemployment and the growing displacement of family farmers and workers in Mexico and Central America have resulted in a steady stream of migrants traveling through Mexico. These migrants are especially vulnerable to abuses by police and other government agents. Thousands are assaulted and raped, some become ill, and others are injured in accidents while trying to ride freight trains — known as "the beasts" — that travel some 1,000 miles across Mexico. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, hundreds of people die each year from heat exhaustion, dehydration or exposure. CRS supports shelters and feeding stations throughout Mexico. Operated by the Catholic Church in Mexico, these operations provide emergency assistance to migrants. CRS also supports advocacy efforts in both Mexico and the United States to create safe and legal pathways for migrants to cross borders to find work.
Justice for Farmers
A large percentage of the people risking their lives to cross the border are migrants from rural Mexico. Most are family farmers who can no longer support their families. They migrate north as a last resort. Many are displaced grain farmers unable to compete with the subsidized U.S. grains that have come into Mexico since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. Many are indigenous farmers from southern Mexico, where the depletion of natural resources has seriously affected the ability of the land to produce enough food, and the cost of pesticides and chemical fertilizers has made farming prohibitively expensive. CRS Mexico works with local partners to address these issues by helping small-scale farmers diversify their production, find new markets for their crops and practice more sustainable farming methods.
Forty percent of Mexico's urban work force is employed in unregulated, home-based microenterprise, part of an informal economy that provides jobs for millions of Mexicans. In 2004, CRS Mexico and our partner organization, Borderlinks, initiated a pilot microlending project to provide credit to microentrepreneurs in the Mexican border city of Nogales, Sonora. The project provides loans of between $200 and $800 to borrowers, primarily women, who form community banks in their neighborhoods. Each member of the bank guarantees the loans of the other borrowers in the bank, operating on a peer solidarity system. The project has recently expanded to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, and hopes to reach 6,500 borrowers by 2009.
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 cites labor rights as a major concern in Mexico, where workers are subject to widespread violations of their basic rights. Arbitrary firings, a lack of basic occupational safety precautions, sexual harassment and violations of collective-bargaining contracts are a few of the most common violations. CRS works to promote greater respect for workers’ rights and better working conditions in Mexico. We support the Jesuit Center for Reflection and Action on Labor Issues in Mexico City, the Diocesan Labor Rights Apostolate of Ciudad Juarez, and the national Worker Rights Apostolate. These projects educate workers about their rights, provide legal representation, and support workers’ movements to improve wages and working conditions. Our efforts are grounded in Catholic social teachings’ respect for the dignity of work.
Human Rights and Peacebuilding
Human rights violations continue to be a concern in Mexico. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006, torture remains a widespread problem in the Mexican criminal justice system, which "routinely fails to provide justice to victims of violent crime and human rights abuses." Mexico also experiences a large number of community-level conflicts, many over land and scarce natural resources, particularly in the poorer southern states of the country. CRS supports programs which promote and defend human rights in Mexico. Our peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts are concentrated in communities where people are divided over land allocation, natural resources, religion or politics. These divisions often result in armed conflict. Human rights and peacebuilding programs include projects that protect the rights of indigenous people in Chiapas and Chihuahua, and a collaborative peacebuilding initiative in eastern Chiapas.