Migration activists in Mexico are warning about a growth in the number of kidnappings of migrants by crime groups, and they blame the government's policies for exacerbating the situation.
Tomás González, a priest who runs a migrant shelter in the state of Tabasco, recently told La Opinión that he had encountered several groups of migrants in the past few months who claimed that they had been kidnapped and forced to pay a ransom in order to secure their release.
"What we are seeing is again the neglect of the authorities on the issue of abduction of migrants," González said.
According to Rubén Figueroa, an activist with the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano - M3), the government is not simply ignoring the problem; it is contributing to it.
"The new routes derived from the operations of the National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración -- INM) aimed at stopping migrants cause them to transit through zones controlled by organized crime," putting them at risk for extortion, Figueroa said.
Figueroa added that it is "impossible" to determine the true scope of the kidnapping problem, because government statistics do not distinguish between operations that free kidnapping victims and those that result in detentions of undocumented migrants.
Nevertheless, there appears to be broad agreement that migrant kidnapping is a major issue. For instance, the Honduran consul in the Mexican state of Veracruz, Raúl Otoniel, told La Opinion that kidnapping "is one of the principal problems of migration right now."
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite the problems with obtaining accurate data, there are a number of reasons to believe anecdotal reports like those cited above represent a larger trend. For one, the official data that is available suggests a huge increase in migrant kidnappings in recent years, which is likely related to the growing number of migrants transiting Mexico as they flee crime and violence in Central America.
Echoing the point made by M3's Figueroa, journalists and other researchers have also found that Mexico's immigration crackdown has done little to stem the flow of migrants while forcing them to use dangerous routes often controlled by criminal groups. This has put migrants at heightened risk for nearly every conceivable form of exploitation and abuse including murder, rape, extortion -- and, of course, kidnapping.
And even migrants who reach the United States are not necessarily safe from criminal actors. In one case that recently saw a human smuggler sentenced to three terms of life in prison, the defendant admitted to holding undocumented migrants hostage in stash houses in Texas.