Nearly two dozen municipal police officers were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and extortion of migrants in Mexico's Chiapas state, highlighting the rise of police violence against migrants along this key transit route.
A total of 21 municipal police officers in the town of Chiapa de Corzo were arrested for allegedly attempting to extort 19 undocumented migrants on October 11. According to El Universal, the accused intercepted a bus carrying migrants -- including seven minors whose ages ranged from two to fourteen years -- and proceeded to transfer the victims to the police station where they were subsequently held.
The police officers then demanded that the victims, who came from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, give up the names and telephone numbers of family members in their countries of origin in order to demand a ransom of 3,000 Mexican pesos -- equivalent to roughly $160 -- for the release of the victims, according to Chiapas' Attorney General's Office.
Prosecutors say that the initial findings of the investigation suggest that the subdirector of the municipal police force ordered the detention of the migrants, implying that he may have been the leader of the extortion ring. Some news outlets have affirmed that the suspected officer is Hernán Gómez Grajales, the brother of Chiapa de Corzo's mayor, Héctor Gómez Grajales. But this has not been confirmed by the authorities; the Attorney General's Office's statement only identified the suspect as "Hernán 'N'."
The incident prompted the town mayor to publish an official statement on the local government's webpage, in which he assured that there would be zero tolerance towards corrupt officials, and that he was not linked to the extortion ring.
The 21 police officers are officially under investigation by the Attorney General's Office for express kidnapping, and could be sentenced to up to 50 years in prison should they be found guilty.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexico has been struggling with the waves of Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty in an attempt to reach the United States, and there has been growing concern about the violence and crime they suffer from during their perilous trip through Mexico. Chiapas, a key transit area due to its extended border with Guatemala, has become the most violent state for migrants, registering nearly 50 percent of the reported crimes.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling
A worrying trend amid the increase in crimes against migrants is the growing involvement of security forces in kidnapping and extortion. This is not the first occurrence of police officers being accused of these crimes in Chiapas, and a recent report released by several human rights organizations found that the number of registered complaints against Mexican officials for crimes against migrants rose 180 percent between 2014 and 2015.
In contrast, reports of crimes attributed to criminal organizations actually diminished during that same period. Based on these numbers, Mexican authorities were considered responsible for 41.5 percent of reported crimes against migrants, strikingly close to the 45 percent of crimes credited to criminal groups.