Mexican priest defender of the rights of migrants. Member of the “Casa del Migrante”, popularly known as “Belen, posada del migrante”. Founded in 2000, located in Saltillo, 400 km from the Texas border, this hostel has hosted more than 50,000 migrants. It offers not only a roof for migrants but also has a health, legal, psychological and humanitarian service. It represents a refuge from the abuses and kidnappings suffered by migrants in transit to the United States.
Similarly, Father Pantoja actively denounces the involvement of the authorities in the business of immigrant kidnapping. “La Casa del Migrante”, together with “Humanidad Sin Fronteras” and “Frontera con justicia”, prepare annual reports on the situation of migrants in transit. Additionally, Father Pantoja and the organizations that make up the “Foro de Migraciones” report each case of kidnapping on the “Red del Registro Nacional de Agresiones” in Migrantesen. His complaints have reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Washington where he has publicly expressed the risks that Central American migrants face in Mexico and has denounced the actions of the Mexican authorities.
Father Pantoja suffers from constant death threats and the “Casa del Migrante” is continually attacked by Los Zetas, the most violent criminal organization that operates in Mexico.
On the other hand, he has received several awards, including the Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, or more recently in February 2015, the “Consejo Nacional para Prevenir la Discriminación” (Conapred) gave to him the Award for Equality and Non-Discrimination 2014.
In 2016 the “Casa del Migrante”, in which Father Pedro Pantoja works, signed an agreement with UNHCR to host refugees in search of a new future in Mexico.
What led you to dedicate your life to defending the rights of migrants?
The conditions of poverty and survival that I lived in my family environment, the social formation of the Jesuit seminary and, especially, my experiences as an immigrant and as a worker. I have worked as a steelworker in Mexico, as a coal trailer driver in the United States and as an exploited “temporary” immigrant in California’s Death Valley picking grapes. There I met the great leader Cesar Chavez and participated in the social struggle he promoted. All these experiences, together with the pain of the forced migration that began to cross Saltillo, is what led me to dedicate myself to the defense of migrants’ rights.
What does Belén, Posada del Migrante represent for migrants?
Belén, Posada del Migrante, represents the oasis and the last redoubt of protection, life, animation and reunion with their survival and dignity of migrants beaten and violated in Mexico. Every day we work so that migrants make the process from victimization to social subjectivity. The migrant arrives as a victim and has to leave with the awareness and the dynamics of becoming a social, historical, emerging subject. Bethlehem constitutes the set of all the fronts of migration: political, cultural, anthropological, social, legal, psychological, mental health, regulatory processes, religious.
How does the migrant kidnapping business work in Mexico?
Kidnapping is the mechanism that generates the most profits for organized crime, which has managed to turn all the actors of violence against migrants: criminal gangs, maras, polleros, common delinquency, hawks. Kidnapping is carried out violently throughout Mexico (on trains, on roads, in the jungle, in the city, inside and outside migrants’ homes). They have their captivity centers called “Casas de Seguridad”,
a place where they use torture to communicate with the victims’ relatives in order to establish the extortion cost, which ranges from 1,000 to 6,000 dollars. There are companies (Electra, Western Union) that are used for transfers and money laundering in these actions. In the first semester of 2009 alone, the profits obtained from kidnapping amounted to 25 million dollars.
What request would you make to the Mexican and US authorities to improve the situation of migrants in transit?
There is a need for a structural reform of migration policy that is neither restrictive nor punitive and that is based on a more humane approach. The migratory phenomenon must be seen as a real humanitarian and social justice crisis, trapped by violence and extreme poverty. The historical vindication of the right to migrate, the right to migration without violence. All migration must be seen as a benefit for the receiving countries and must respect all universal human rights instruments for the dignity of the migrant.
Despite the threats, what drives you every day to continue the fight for the defense of migrants’ rights?
To be part of the risks, threats and violence against migrants, as a defender and as a partner in the struggle, is to become actors in a new social history. It is a privilege and an office of struggle and social transformation that cannot be postponed; it is to collaborate with the liberation and dignification of many victims. It is to exercise and live the fidelity to the Gospel of justice, of active and committed love.