updated 11/2/2008 7:13:27 PM ET 2008-11-03T00:13:27

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission asked legislators on Sunday to change the country's laws so that police would no longer have to ask migrants about their legal status when they file criminal complaints.

The idea is to make it easier for undocumented migrants in Mexico to report crimes, abuses or extortion attempts against them, the commission said in a news release.

In a letter to the Mexican Senate, the commission wrote that migrants should "be treated foremost as crime victims, regardless of their immigration status."

At present, Article 67 of Mexico's Population Law requires police to ask foreigners to prove they are in the country legally before they can offer the migrants any kind of services. The commission called that "restrictive and repressive."

Tens of thousands of Central American migrants cross through Mexico each year in an attempt to reach the United States, but many report being robbed, assaulted or shaken down for money, sometimes by police or immigrant traffickers.

"Mexico has become the scene of the most shameful violations of migrants rights," wrote commission President Jose Luis Soberanes.

In July, Mexico removed criminal penalties for being in the country illegally. Undocumented migration is now a minor offense punishable by fines, as compared to previous punishments of 1 1/2 to 10 years in prison.

In part, advocates argued, Mexico's harsh treatment of migrants undermined its own demands for better treatment of undocumented Mexicans in the United States.

The commission praised the July reform, noting it had "blocked opportunities for corruption, crime and the systematic violation of migrants' human rights," and continued that "as part of this legal evolution, it is important to permit all undocumented migrants access to the justice system."

Anger over abuses against migrants boiled over in a small town in central Mexico in October, where townspeople rioted to defend dozens of Central Americans who had been held captive by traffickers, reportedly in collusion with police.

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