Ongoing investigations of human trafficking cross border from Tijuana into California show some shocking trends that foreign mafias are benefiting from the strength and control the Latin Mafias have consolidated in the cross border region. Undercover investigations show that human trafficking is on the rise and that victims are transited through Tijuana and San Diego to private homes and to gaming casinos in California and Nevada.
– pictured here Richard Leger with Sister Antonia
2012 Trafficking in Persons Report – Mexico (Tier 2)
Mexico is a large source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, and undocumented migrants. Mexican women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within Mexico and the United States, lured by fraudulent employment opportunities or deceptive offers of romantic relationships. Mexican men, women, and children also are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, construction, and street begging, in both the United States and Mexico. The vast majority of foreign victims in forced labor and sexual servitude in Mexico are from Central and South America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. However, trafficking victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. There were continued reports from civil society organizations that organized criminal groups coerced children and migrants into prostitution and to work as hit men, lookouts, and drug mules. Central American men, women, and children, especially Guatemalans, are subjected to forced labor in southern Mexico, particularly in agriculture, domestic servitude, street vending, and forced begging. Child sex tourism persisted in Mexico, especially in tourist areas such as Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun, and in northern border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, though some are Mexican citizens. In some parts of the country, threats of violence from criminal organizations impede the ability of the government and civil society to combat trafficking effectively.
The Government of Mexico does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, Mexican authorities passed constitutional reforms on trafficking, strengthened training and awareness efforts, and significantly increased trafficking convictions at both the federal and state level, convicting at least 14 trafficking offenders. Given the magnitude of Mexico’s trafficking problem, however, the number of human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences remained low, and government funding for victim services remained inadequate. Victim identification and interagency coordination remained uneven. While Mexican officials recognize human trafficking as a serious problem, NGOs and government representatives report that some government officials tolerate and are sometimes complicit in trafficking, undermining anti-trafficking efforts.
Recommendations for Mexico: Continue to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders at both the federal and state level, including for forced labor crimes; increase efforts to hold public officials who are complicit in trafficking accountable through prosecution and conviction; increase funding for specialized victim services and shelters and ensure that victims of all forms of trafficking receive adequate protection; continue to implement the National Program to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons and consider increasing dedicated funding for the program; consider amending the current law to strengthen the legal framework; increase collaboration with NGOs to provide victim care; enhance formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and undocumented migrants; improve coordination mechanisms between federal, state, and local authorities; increase the ability of regional and state coalitions and specialized units to more effectively respond to human trafficking cases through increased funding and staff dedicated to state-level efforts; improve data collection efforts; ensure effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against traffickers; and increase training on human trafficking and victim identification and treatment for law enforcement officers, immigration officials, labor inspectors, prosecutors, judges, social workers, and other government employees.
The Government of Mexico sustained its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period; convictions of sex trafficking offenders increased, though the number of convictions remained low in comparison with the number of cases investigated. There were no reported convictions for forced labor. Mexico’s 2007 federal anti-trafficking law prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of six to 18 years’ imprisonment. The law includes a clause that can render consent of victims over the age of 18 relevant, even if threats, abduction or fraud were used, making the prosecution of traffickers more difficult when the victim may have originally consented to an activity. In April 2011, the government enacted reforms raising trafficking to the level of a serious crime, allowing for preventive detention of suspected traffickers, as well as establishing enhanced victim identity protections.
In Mexico’s federal system, state governments investigate and prosecute trafficking cases that occur wholly within the country, except in cases that involve organized crime, transnational trafficking, government officials, and cases occurring on federally-administered territory. All 32 Mexican states have passed some anti-trafficking penal code reforms, though these reforms varied in content and effectiveness, and not all of the reforms outlawed all forms of trafficking. Eighteen states have specific state trafficking laws, and three have achieved convictions under these laws. Inconsistencies among state penal codes and laws on human trafficking caused confusion among law enforcement and problems among inter-state prosecutions.
The federal police maintained a small unit to investigate human trafficking and smuggling crimes, and some states also had law enforcement units that investigated trafficking crimes, specifically sex trafficking. The Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) handles federal trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects, while the Attorney General’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (SIEDO) investigates cases with more than three suspects. Law enforcement coordination between different government entities and data collection on human trafficking efforts were weak. Officials and NGOs reported that some investigations and prosecutions were delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction, to the detriment of both the criminal case and the victim. Resources and staff for these dedicated units remained limited. Mexican authorities at the federal and state levels convicted a total of 14 sex traffickers during the year. There were no reported convictions for forced labor. In 2011 FEVIMTRA investigated 67 trafficking cases: it did not report how many prosecutions were initiated, and did not convict or sentence any traffickers. In 2011, SIEDO achieved its first convictions for trafficking; four sex trafficking offenders received sentences ranging from 14.5 to 16.5 years’ imprisonment, while other traffickers involved in the crime were convicted in the United States. The Mexico City Attorney General’s Office convicted four trafficking offenders, whose sentences ranged from six to 12 years’ imprisonment. Several states also prosecuted human trafficking cases; authorities in Puebla reported three convictions, while Chiapas reported two and Yucatan reported one, with sentences ranging between 10 and 14 years’ imprisonment. This represents an increase from the previous year, when FEVIMTRA convicted one trafficker and Mexico City prosecutors achieved four convictions.
NGOs, members of the government, and other observers continued to report that trafficking-related corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, was a significant concern. Some officials reportedly accepted or extorted bribes, including in the form of sexual services, falsified victims’ identity documents, discouraged trafficking victims from reporting their crimes, solicited sex from trafficking victims, or failed to report child prostitution and other human trafficking activity in commercial sex locations. Puebla prosecutors reported investigating four officials for suspected trafficking crimes, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of public officials for trafficking complicity in 2011.
NGOs noted that some public officials in Mexico did not adequately distinguish between alien smuggling, prostitution, and human trafficking offenses and that many officials are not familiar with trafficking laws. They also reported that some officials threatened to prosecute trafficking victims as accomplices in order to force them to denounce their traffickers. Some federal government agencies provided their own employees with anti-trafficking training and cross-trained officials in other agencies, often in partnership with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments, and FEVIMTRA reported training hundreds of officials on trafficking in 2011. The Mexican federal government continued to partner with the U.S. government on cross-border trafficking investigations.
The Mexican government carried out limited efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims in 2011, with the majority of services available only to female sex trafficking victims. The government continued to work in cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments to provide victim care, relying on these partners to operate or fund the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims. Mexican immigration agents continued to implement a system for identifying potential trafficking victims and referring these victims to care providers, such as NGOs. Some NGOs, however, were critical of the government’s ability to identify accurately trafficking victims, and most states lacked formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among other vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution. There were no comprehensive statistics available on the number of trafficking victims identified during the year; FEVIMTRA reported identifying 89 victims in 2011, while the National Institute for Migration (INM) reported identifying 29, and authorities in Baja, California and Mexico City identified 13 and 29 victims respectively. This represents a decrease from 2010, when authorities reported identifying at least 259 victims. INM and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) both had referral mechanisms for trafficking victims, though officials’ ability to refer Mexican victims to care services varied in different parts of the country.
In September 2011, the president established a new agency, Provictima, to assist victims of all crimes, and shifted funding and facilities from other government agencies, including FEVIMTRA, to support it. Provictima provides medical and psychological support, as well as information and assistance during legal processes, through 14 help centers across the country, but does not provide shelter. Some interlocutors noted that the lack of clarity regarding the division of responsibilities between FEVIMTRA and Provictima, as well as the lack of organizational structure within the new agency, could negatively impact the quality of services provided to trafficking victims. The lack of Provictima centers in high-crime areas such as cities along the northern border hindered provision of services.
FEVIMTRA continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City dedicated to female victims of sex trafficking and other violence including kidnapping, as well as women whose family members had disappeared or been murdered. Victims were not allowed to leave the shelter unaccompanied; according to the government, this was due to safety concerns. Some NGOs reported that the shelter housed victims for up to three months. This shelter coordinated medical, psychological, and legal services for 97 individuals during the year: it is unclear how many of these were trafficking victims. Mexico’s social welfare agency maintained general shelters for children under the age of 13 who are victims of violence, though statistics were not maintained on how many trafficking victims were housed in these shelters during the reporting period. The government continued to support a national network of shelters and emergency attention centers for female victims of violence, but few of these shelters offered specialized care for trafficking victims. Some victims received services at shelters that were operated and funded by NGOs, international organizations, and religious groups, and officials referred some victims to these shelters during the reporting period. According to NGOs, however, victim services in some regions of the country remained inadequate in light of the significant number of trafficking victims. Furthermore, some shelters for migrants and domestic abuse victims were reportedly reluctant to house trafficking victims due to fear of retribution from organized crime. Authorities arrested and opened an ongoing investigation of the director of a domestic violence shelter in Ciudad Juarez in October 2011 that had received some state funding. Authorities charged the director with human trafficking, illegal detention, and sexual abuse of women and girls reportedly held against their will in the shelter. The government did not provide adequate shelter services for male victims. Mexican consulates in the United States identified and assisted an unknown number of victims during the year, and authorities provided limited services to some repatriated Mexican trafficking victims.
Although authorities encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, many victims in Mexico were afraid to identify themselves or seek legal remedies due to their fears of retribution from trafficking offenders or lack of trust in authorities. Some civil society groups reported that local authorities threatened to arrest victims as accomplices if they refused to testify against their traffickers. Traditionally, prosecutions of human trafficking offenders in Mexico have relied almost entirely on victim or witness testimony. Trafficking victims and witnesses continued to have little incentive to participate in the legal process, based on the limited numbers of trafficking convictions and sentences and on the fact that no trafficking victim was awarded compensation for damages. Furthermore, many victims feared for their safety, since the witness protection program in Mexico remained nascent and did not provide sufficient protection. Foreign trafficking victims could receive refugee status, and an INM directive required immigration officials to offer foreign victims the option to stay in the country, independent of any decision to testify against their traffickers. However, NGOs and international organizations reported these legal alternatives to deportation were often not provided in practice; they noted that some officials handed identified victims over to INM for deportation due to their lack of legal status or that victims were not identified as such and housed in INM detention centers and subsequently deported. Many foreign trafficking victims opted to return to their countries of origin after giving testimony, in some cases due to a lack of adequate shelter or information about their rights. INM reported that 11 victims that they identified in 2011 received legal residency in Mexico, while 13 were repatriated and five cases were ongoing. However, it was unclear how many of the 98 foreign victims identified by INM and FEVIMTRA in 2010 – whose application for residency remained pending in early 2011 – were allowed to remain in the country.
Federal and state governments sustained trafficking prevention efforts last year. An inter-agency commission on trafficking coordinated federal government efforts. The commission was responsible for implementing the National Program to Prevent and Combat Trafficking; the government reduced the budget for the National Program to Prevent and Combat Trafficking to the equivalent of $313,000 from the equivalent of $4.2 million for budgetary reasons. NGOs and international organizations criticized authorities for the reduction and lamented the lack of information on the program’s implementation. The government engaged in a variety of awareness-raising activities using radio and television commercials, as well as other multimedia efforts. Some states established or maintained state-level anti-trafficking committees. CNDH also maintained regional partnerships with NGO and government actors in 13 states, and reported training over 20,000 individuals on trafficking in 2011, including officials, tourism operators, and transportation companies. Authorities raised awareness of child sex tourism and reported investigating some cases; however, the government reported no prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists, and some NGOs alleged that some corrupt local officials allowed commercial sexual exploitation of children to occur. There were no reported efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or to punish labor recruiters or brokers complicit in human trafficking.