The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde, who is known for his work with Central American migrants, said during a conference in Mexico City that he was concerned about the government's increasing emphasis on policing in its immigration policy.

Officials have been turning the National Migration Institute, or INM, into more of a police agency, Solalinde said at the Universidad Iberoamericana.

The Catholic priest, who founded the Hermanos del Camino shelter in the southern state of Oaxaca, was forced to leave Mexico for a short time last year after receiving threats.

"Sometimes there are few migrants and up to 80 armed (Federal Police) officers, who get involved in everything" at the INM station in Acayucan, Veracruz, the priest said.

"This is the most favorable time to make viable" immigration reform in the United States, Solalinde said in response to a question about efforts in Washington to overhaul the immigration system.

"It is necessary for the state to publicly recognize the human rights of every person who is in the United States, because it should not be the case that an administrative irregularity (being undocumented) is a reason for repression, inhumane treatment and even incarceration," Solalinde said.

An estimated 300,000 Central Americans undertake the hazardous journey across Mexico each year on their way to the United States.

The trek is a dangerous one, with criminals and corrupt Mexican officials preying on the migrants.

Gangs kidnap, exploit and murder migrants, who are often targeted in extortion schemes, Mexican officials say. EFE