Constitutionalized Human Rights Law in Mexico: Hope for Central American Refugees?

32 Harvard Human Rights Journal 103 (2019)

44 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2021

See all articles by Stephen Meili

Stephen Meili

University of Minnesota Law School; University of Oxford - Border Criminologies

Date Written: 2019


The number of individuals fleeing drug and gang-related violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) has increased exponentially in recent years. Mexico (with financial assistance from the United States) has apprehended and detained many of these refugees on their way to the United States. As a result, the number of asylum applications filed by Central Americans in Mexico increased by a factor of ten between 2014 and 2017. At the same time as these events have been unfolding, Mexico has been adding numerous human rights provisions to its national Constitution, including the right to asylum. Its Constitution has also broadened the scope of refugee protection to include not only the five grounds permitted under the 1951 Refugee Convention (persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group) but also flight from armed conflict, massive violations of human rights, and “other circumstances which have severely disturbed the public order.” On paper, at least, Mexico is in the vanguard of the ever-expanding number of countries which have recently constitutionalized the right to asylum.

This Article analyzes whether Mexico’s recent constitutional amendments are mere words on parchment or the means for greater protection for refugees from Central America and elsewhere. It is the first empirical study of lawyers’ efforts to use constitutionalized human rights law on behalf of refugees in Mexico and how those efforts have been received by Mexican courts. Based on judicial decisions and interviews with lawyers involved in recent strategic litigation challenging the Mexican government’s policies and practices toward refugees, it identifies those circumstances under which constitutionalized human rights law is more likely to result in positive outcomes for non-citizens seeking relief from persecution.

Keywords: asylum, human rights

Suggested Citation

Meili, Stephen, Constitutionalized Human Rights Law in Mexico: Hope for Central American Refugees? (2019). 32 Harvard Human Rights Journal 103 (2019), Available at SSRN:

Stephen Meili (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

Mondale Hall
229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55104
United States

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies ( email )

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Manor Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

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