Mexican authorities say they have rescued 700 kidnapped migrants in Mexico's Tamaulipas state since May, underscoring the dangers facing migrants traveling through the embattled northeastern state as fragmented criminal groups increasingly turn to kidnapping this vulnerable group as a source of revenue.
According to Fernando Castañon, the federal security coordinator in Mexico's coastal region, the 700 kidnapped migrants were rescued from nine safe houses between the implementation of a new security strategy in May and the end of August, reported Terra.
Four of the safe houses were located in the city of Tampico, where, according to Castañon, authorities had previously failed to look for this type of criminal activity because the city is not located near the US border, Hoy Tamaulipas said.
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Castañon added that the objective of human smugglers "is no longer to transport [migrants] to the other side of the border, but to extort them," reported Terra.
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Tamaulipas has seen a rise in violence as the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas battle for control of the state, and rival factions of both groups seek to fill power vacuums created by near-constant changes of leadership.
Kidnappings in the state have likely been fueled by the splintering of both organizations. Smaller criminal groups typically seek alternative sources of revenue since activities such as international drug trafficking require advanced logistical organization and, importantly, a measure of stability and peace in an area. According to a recent Interior Ministry (SEGOB) report, close to 60 percent of the entire country's July kidnappings took place in Tamaulipas, a figure that likely does not even include kidnapped migrants, who are an easy target for criminal groups because of their vulnerability, anonymity and reluctance to go to authorities.
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In spite of the state's delicate security situation, large numbers of migrants continue to travel through Tamaulipas on their way to the United States. Of the unaccompanied child migrants detained in the United States between October 2013 and June 2014, the overwhelming majority were apprehended near the section of the border Tamaulipas shares with Texas.
The number of kidnapped migrants rescued in just three months highlights the dangers facing this population. In addition to kidnapping, criminal groups in Mexico frequently extort migrants or use them for forced labor. Mass graves containing the bodies of migrants have also been discovered. In one of the most brutal attacks against this population, the Zetas massacred 72 migrants in Tamaulipas in August 2010.