The Mexican government has done little to protect migrants from organized criminal groups like the Zetas, says a report released Tuesday.
Released by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the 11-page report argues that by treating migration as a security issue, Mexico has inadvertently put more power into the hands of criminal groups. Policies discourage migrants from reporting abuses like kidnapping, extortion, rape and murder, while corrupt immigration and police agents are rarely penalized.
Evidence suggests the kidnapping of migrants is an increasingly important source of cash for drug-trafficking gangs like the Zetas, the report notes. To the north, beefed-up border security in the U.S. has intensified the demand for human smugglers. This has created new business opportunities for gangs looking to diversify their criminal portfolio. The same has happened along Mexico's southern border, where thousands of Central American migrants begin their journey to the U.S. each year.
According to the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, human trafficking is the third most profitable industry in the world. Profits can reach $9.5 million a year, said the organization's executive secretary, Jose Guitierrez Espindola.
"It is much more profitable to sell a person than to sell cocaine," he told Proceso.
A study issued last year by the Commission found that in a six-month period, organized gangs kidnapped 9,194 migrants.
"Although migrants might be considered an improbable target for kidnapping, their undocumented status in Mexico, the limited number of routes they take to travel through Mexico – mainly determined by the train routes, which tend to coincide with territories for which drug cartels are battling– their easy identification, and their high numbers make them an attractive target for organized criminal groups," notes the WOLA report.
Stringent border policies in the U.S. and Mexico have also forced migrants to travel in more rural, isolated areas, increasing the likelihood of abuse.
The increased involvement of gangs in human smuggling may also indicate that especially at the U.S. border, it has become more difficult to traffic drugs, forcing criminal groups to look for other sources of funding.
Mexico announced a new strategy to address migrant abuse after the Zetas massacred 72 people in Tamaulipas last August. The revised strategy includes new measures to enhance the protection of migrants, including removing one statute requiring authorities to verify an individual's legal status before providing medical or police assistance.