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Expanding the border: Increased securitisation and the proliferation of checkpoints at Mexico's southern border

By Alethia Fernández de la Reguera | OMC 2024

Personal picture taken in January 2023 in Tapachula, Mexico, of two men at a border-crossing checkpoint.

A checkpoint is a dispositif of border control which materialises violence. In Mexico, the border control industry prohibits the mobility of certain groups through border performativity and racial profiling. Located on the southern border, the state of Chiapas is a central receiving region for people from Latin America who are trying to reach the United States to escape contexts of criminal violence and extreme poverty. Far from complying with international protection mechanisms, the Mexican government has increased securitisation of this region in the last decade through border militarisation and the proliferation of checkpoints—the latter resulting in the manifestation of direct violence and human rights violations.

Mobilities and critical border research focus on power relationships and the systems of governance of (im)mobility, critically analysing who can move how and when. Within this framework, checkpoints are crucial to the new mobility regimes that produce securitised corridors,  allowing the movement of specific populations and preventing others. The checkpoint is an expanded border control technology, varying in typology (temporal and permanent) and the actors involved (legal and extra-legal). 

As essential mechanisms to maintaining the country's south as a securitisation belt, checkpoints prevent mobility towards central and northern Mexico and increase the detention of people on the move. For the third consecutive year in 2023, the Instituto Nacional de Migración (INM), the national agency of the Mexican government in charge of immigration control, broke a record for immigration detention with 782,176 people detained. Of this total, 566,361 people (72.4%) were deprived of their liberty in an immigration detention centre and 215,815 (27.5%) were taken to shelters. 70.5 % of these detentions occurred in the states of Tabasco and Chiapas. The INM is the only authority overseeing immigration control. The Guardia Nacional (the Mexican National Guard) can support the INM in these operations, but cannot act independently. However, immigration checkpoints operate in regions with a high presence of organised crime. Therefore, they are operated not only by the INM, the National Guard, and the Armed Forces, but also by various federal, state, and municipal authorities and extra-legal actors.

I argue that both the militarisation of immigration control and the multiple actors involved in these operations in border areas, on highways, or in the outskirts and inside cities make it increasingly difficult to distinguish between immigration policy and criminal policy, creating an environment of insecurity, lack of transparency and exceptionality of the law. This exposes all persons, Mexican or foreign, to serious human rights violations when travelling by road on the southern border. 

Racial profiling is accentuated by the coexistence of a criminal policy and a punitive immigration policy, generating forms of violence that end up being normalised. The suffering it produces not only deprives migrants of their fundamental rights while crossing a checkpoint and puts their lives at risk, but also operates in a systematic and invisibilised way. It is internalised and accepted as part of the experience (almost deservedly) by racialised irregular persons on the move. 

Additionally, the checkpoint as a form of infrastructural violence is not only material, but reinforces social inequalities as people are targeted. From a feminist perspective, it can be analysed as the materialisation of infrastructures of power, subjugation and punishment not only by the state but also by an industry of border control over racialised bodies. However, in the Global South and specifically in Mexico, the categories with which checkpoints have been previously studied are not sufficient to explain the coexistence of legal and extra-legal actors and the different purposes of a checkpoint, from deterrence to the commission of crimes and serious human rights violations, such as sexual violence, torture and disappearance. Thus, the checkpoint allows for the extension and personalisation of border control and the materialisation of various forms of violence by state and criminal actors.

Despite the existence of a ruling by the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice declaring the unconstitutionality of the internal border immigration controls (including checkpoints) in 2022, the right to non-discrimination and free transit is violated at checkpoints everyday. For some people, it is much more severe, especially if they are irregularly in Mexican territory,  if they do not speak Spanish, or if they are indigenous or Afro-descendants.


Alethia Fernández de la Reguera is a full-time researcher at the Institute of Legal Research of  the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Coordinator of the National Laboratory on Diversities of UNAM and of the Institutional Research Track: Rights, Migrations and Mobilities. They are currently a visiting scholar at the School of Law of the University of Warwick with the project “The effects of border militarisation in Mexico and Poland on the international protection and human rights of migrants.” In 2021, they received the National University Distinction Award for Young Scholars 2021 in the area of social science research. They are an Affiliate Faculty at the University of Arizona M.A. Human Rights Practice with specialties in gender and migration, immigration detention, bureaucracies, gender violence and women's autonomy. Contact her via @alethia_reguera or @SUDIMER_UNAM

1 Comment

andi dunn
andi dunn
Jun 09

Dr Fernandez, thank you. Both for this article and your unwavering dedication to bringing attention to the struggles of migrants along the southern Mexico border. Your commitment to exposing the dire circumstances and human rights violations endured by thousands of vulnerable individuals is truly commendable. By shedding light on the weaponization of disgust and the unjust actions of those responsible for overseeing and staffing border checkpoints, you have become a powerful voice for the voiceless. Your work not only raises awareness but also inspires action, urging the international community to recognize the urgency of the situation and advocate for change. Thank you for your courageous efforts, and may you continue to shine a light on the plight of migrants an…

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