A new report shows how and where organized crime groups victimize Central American migrants in Mexico.
The report from the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, titled “Organized Crime and Central American Migration in Mexico,” says that migrants fleeing gangs in Central America routinely confront and interact with organized crime groups in Mexico, making their journey all the more dangerous.
(Graphic courtesy of UT-Austin’s Strauss Center)
Using what the report’s authors call the Central American Migrant Risk Database (CAMRD), an open-source dataset composed of crimes committed against migrants that were reported in Mexican newspapers, the report found that various criminal actors threaten migrants in several ways throughout their journey, especially along the eastern migrant route.
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According to the report, migrants from Central America face three types of criminal actors: local actors, gangs and transnational criminal organizations. Local actors and gangs are typically less organized and prey on migrants through small-scale crimes like robbery, extortion, assault and sexual assault. On the other hand, more sophisticated organized criminal groups like the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas charge taxes for migrants to pass while also running their own migrant kidnapping or smuggling rings, in addition to attacking those traveling through Mexico.
The report found that kidnapping is the most lucrative crime committed and is predominantly carried out by transnational criminal organizations. Organized crime groups can earn up to $5,165 per migrant and up to $20.5 million annually from kidnapping.
The report documented crimes against migrants from the beginning to the end of their journey through Mexico. Kidnappings were largely concentrated along the northern US-Mexico border, while assaults and extortions generally took place in southern Mexico.
InSight Crime Analysis
The report, while informative, misses a key actor in its analysis: the Mexican state. This could be explained, in part, by the fact that the report was done “in response to a request” from the Mexican Federal Police.
Both the National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración – INM) and various parts of the local and federal police have been linked to migrant kidnapping and extortion, as InSight Crime chronicled in its three part series on violence against migrants in Mexico.
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That said, the report is a valuable reminder of the dangers migrants face from organized crime. And as Mexico’s criminal world becomes increasingly fragmented, criminal groups are stepping up their involvement in more local and highly profitable crimes like kidnapping.
As the report notes, unauthorized migration from Central America is a multimillion — if not multibillion — dollar industry for organized crime groups. And with the United States enacting more hard-line policies to try and deter migration, organized crime groups may benefit even more as migrants are pushed into the illegal market and forced to take less-traveled routes.