MEXICO: Tier 2
The Government of Mexico does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Mexico remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by convicting more traffickers than in the previous year; identifying and providing support to trafficking victims subjected to forced labor in Mexico and abroad; and engaging in new anti-trafficking prevention efforts in the travel and tourism sector. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Official complicity continued to be a serious and largely unaddressed problem. The government identified fewer victims and provided limited specialized services for identified trafficking victims. Shelters remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem and victim services were unavailable in much of the country, leaving many reported victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEXICO
Strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict traffickers, especially for forced labor crimes; increase efforts to hold public officials complicit in trafficking accountable through effective prosecutions and stringent sentences; develop and implement a national strategic action plan on victim services in consultation with international organizations and NGOs to include specialized trafficking victim services and shelters funded by the government; finalize and implement victim identification and referral protocols; amend anti-trafficking laws at the federal and state levels to incorporate the definition of trafficking in international law; increase the capacity of state-level anti-trafficking committees and specialized anti-trafficking units to respond more effectively to trafficking cases, through increased funding and staff training; verify, through increased training and monitoring, that victims are not coerced into testifying against traffickers or inappropriately misidentified as traffickers; continue to strengthen data collection efforts; provide effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against traffickers; and continue to improve coordination mechanisms among federal, state, and local authorities.
The government decreased investigations and prosecutions, but convicted more traffickers than in 2015. Law enforcement efforts were undermined by significant official complicity in trafficking crimes, mainly by local police and other local authorities. The general anti-trafficking law of 2012 prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five to 30 years imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, in contrast to the international definition, the law establishes the use of force, fraud, or coercion as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime and defines illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation as a form of human trafficking. Federal officials have jurisdiction over all international trafficking cases, all cases that take place on federally administered territory involving organized crime, and all cases involving allegations against government officials. States investigate other internal trafficking cases. Fourteen of 31 states have aligned their trafficking laws with the federal law, which may address inconsistencies among those states’ laws and improve interstate investigations and prosecutions. In October 2016, the Mexican Senate approved amendments to the 2012 law that would align it more closely with international law; however, the reforms remained under consideration in the Chamber of Deputies. In December 2016, the Mexican Congress approved a Crime Victim’s Law, which includes but is not limited to trafficking victims; and mandates the creation of a federal fund for crime victim assistance and mandates the states also create such funds.
Data based on the broad definition of trafficking in the 2012 law indicated authorities initiated 188 federal and 288 state investigations in 2016, compared with 250 federal and 415 state investigations for trafficking in 2015. Authorities initiated prosecutions against 479 individuals in federal and state cases in 2016 compared to 578 individuals in federal and state cases in 2015. Mexican authorities reported convicting 228 traffickers involved in 127 federal and state cases in 2016, compared to 86 traffickers involved in 36 federal and state cases in 2015. However, it was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking crimes as defined by international law. The government did not report the range of sentences, but media reported sentences ranged from 15 years to 60 years imprisonment. Investigations and prosecutions were sometimes delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction or coordinated with officials in other parts of the country, which hindered prosecutions and caused additional stress for victims. Authorities did not treat cases involving individuals who may have been forced by criminal groups to engage in illicit activities as potential trafficking cases, despite indicators of force or coercion. In June 2016, the government completed a lengthy transition to an accusatory criminal justice system at the federal and state level. Notable cases included the conviction of a notoriously violent trafficker who had exploited dozens of trafficking victims over a period of years to a sentence of more than 22 years in prison and a fine of 1.3 million pesos ($62,947); the arrest of 10 alleged traffickers in a multi-country trafficking network and the identification of 11 child trafficking victims; and, with the assistance of United States law enforcement, the arrest and indictment of several members of a family for operating a sex trafficking network over the past decade in Mexico and New York.
In 2016, the federal government decreased overall funding for investigations and prosecutions, impeding its ability to investigate and prosecute all crime, including trafficking crimes. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 24 of 31 states have specialized prosecutors or units, but some states lacked funding to employ one. Some judges’ and prosecutors’ lack of understanding of trafficking led to traffickers being prosecuted for more minor offenses or to being acquitted when prosecuted for human trafficking. Authorities maintained strong law enforcement cooperation with the United States, partnering on three joint law enforcement operations, which resulted in the identification of nearly 56 victims and the arrest of 29 alleged traffickers. Mexican authorities continued to exchange information on human trafficking and migrant smuggling investigations through an ongoing working group. Some federal government agencies hosted anti-trafficking training with foreign donor support and funding; foreign governments and civil society provided the majority of specialized training.
Despite persistent reports of extensive official complicity, authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking in 2016; the government has not convicted a complicit official since 2010. Some officials extort bribes and sexual services from adults in prostitution and child sex trafficking victims; extort irregular migrants, including trafficking victims; falsify victims’ documents; threaten victims with prosecution to compel them to file official complaints against their traffickers; accept bribes from traffickers; facilitate movement of victims across borders; operate or patronize brothels where victims are exploited; or fail to respond to trafficking crimes, including in commercial sex locations. The government did not report on the status of investigations opened in previous years, including a municipal employee arrested for trafficking in Oaxaca in 2014, the 2013 investigation of two Tijuana police officers for exploiting a sex trafficking victim, or the 2012 investigation of a Chihuahua state employee charged with forced labor.
The government decreased protection efforts, as it identified fewer victims and provided limited specialized services for identified trafficking victims. The government reported identifying 740 trafficking victims in 2016—707 for sex trafficking, 15 for forced labor, 14 for forced criminality, two for slave-like conditions, one for slavery, and one for forced begging—compared with 1,814 trafficking victims in 2015. The federal government identified 194 victims—58 children and 136 adults; 37 male victims and 157 female victims compared with 876 victims in 2015. The state governments identified 691 victims—173 children and 518 adults; 93 male victims and 598 female victims compared with 938 victims in 2015. The Ministry of Foreign Relations identified and provided support to 20 Mexicans subjected to forced labor abroad. In addition to the number of victims identified by the states, the press reported a case of 81 workers exploited in the tomato fields of Queretaro in which authorities arrested seven suspected traffickers for forced labor and provided services to the victims. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission continued to use a victim identification and referral protocol developed in 2015, but did not report whether it led to increased identification and referral. The government reported 14 states used victim identification and referral protocols, but state governments did not report whether the protocols led to increased identification and referral. The Executive Commission for the Attention to Victims (CEAV) reported it provided officials a protocol outlining provision of assistance to victims; however, NGOs reported the protocol was ineffective. While immigration agents used a lengthy human rights questionnaire to identify potential trafficking victims, and some government institutions had informal victim referral procedures, most officials lacked clear guidelines for identifying and referring victims to services. An international organization worked with the National Migration Institute (INM) to develop a victim identification and referral protocol, which had not been implemented. NGOs questioned the government’s ability to accurately identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and persons in prostitution.
In 2016, the CEAV did not report how much it spent for victim assistance, compared to 47 million pesos ($2.3 million) for assistance to crime victims, including trafficking victims, in 2015. Federal and state entities offer victims emergency services, such as medical care, food, and temporary lodging, which some victims received during the year. Longer term victim services vary in scope and quality overall, but may include medical, psychological, legal, and educational services. The government did not report how many identified victims received particular services such as shelter. Services in most parts of the country remained inadequate compared to the significant number of trafficking victims identified by NGOs and officials. Government-funded services for male and forced labor victims were particularly weak. Shelters for vulnerable children younger than age 13 and for female victims of violence did not report how many trafficking victims they assisted in 2016. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City for up to 50 female victims of violence, including trafficking victims, who were participating in the legal process against their exploiters. The government did not report whether the shelter housed trafficking victims in 2016. Women were allowed to have their children with them at the shelter. Women were not allowed to leave the shelter alone; NGOs expressed concern this arrangement re-traumatized some victims. In addition to shelters, there are two publically funded women justice centers in the states of Hidalgo and Guanajuato that work jointly with the Specialized State District Attorneys for Trafficking in Persons to provide a temporary shelter to TIP victims. FEVIMTRA received 71.6 million pesos ($3.5 million) in 2016, compared with 93.4 million pesos ($4.5 million) in 2015, to provide assistance to female victims of extreme violence, including trafficking. The State of Puebla continued to operate the country’s only public-private shelter, funded by the state government and private entities. The State of Mexico opened three trafficking-specific shelters in 2016; and the City of Mexico opened a trafficking-specific shelter, which could provide medical, legal, psychological, legal, and social services, but lacked dedicated funding. NGOs, many with foreign donor or private funding, provided the majority of specialized shelters and assistance. Some shelters relied on the prosecutor’s office to identify victims and received funding based on the number of victims housed, which observers suggested created an incentive to hold victims pending the conclusion of a case and could compromise the shelter’s independence and sustainability of operations. Coordination between federal, state, and local officials on victim services and case management was weak.
Many victims were afraid to identify themselves as trafficking victims, and few filed complaints or assisted in investigations and prosecutions due to their fear of retribution from traffickers, the lack of specialized services, or distrust of authorities. The law has provisions to protect victims from punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, but NGOs reported that in practice some officials unlawfully detained or punished victims. NGOs reported the government did not properly identify trafficking victims, but instead conducted anti-trafficking raids for the purpose of detaining individuals in prostitution and irregular migrants. Some public officials misunderstood the legal definition of trafficking and conflated it with migrant smuggling and prostitution. Some officials transferred victims to the INM for detention and deportation due to their immigration status and lack of formal identification as trafficking victims. Individuals in prostitution in Mexico City alleged officials detained and forced them to sign declarations accusing detained individuals of trafficking, which raised serious concerns about law enforcement tactics to secure evidence. NGOs also reported officials often re-traumatized trafficking victims due to lack of sensitivity. Foreign trafficking victims could receive refugee status independent of any decision to testify against suspected traffickers, but civil society reported few victims received this legal alternative to deportation in practice. Many foreign trafficking victims returned 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 providing food and assistance to six foreign trafficking victims in 2016 and issued temporary immigration relief to four victims renewable yearly depending on the victims’ specific circumstances—compared with 14 victims assisted and 12 victims issued temporary immigration relief in 2015. In some cases, authorities shared victims’ names and case details with the press. The national anti-trafficking law provides for restitution to be paid from a victims’ fund, but the government did not report whether the courts awarded any trafficking victims restitution.
The government increased prevention efforts. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission met once in 2016 to coordinate federal government efforts and reported on 2016 national anti-trafficking efforts. The government continued to implement the national action plan for 2014-2018, but did not report dedicating funds to implement the plan. Twenty-five out of 31 states had state-level anti-trafficking committees, which varied in effectiveness. Experts reported uneven interagency coordination at the federal and state levels.
The federal government provided anti-trafficking training to 16,639 public servants in 2016. Nineteen federal government agencies hosted nearly 800 trainings; engaged in 443 awareness-raising activities across the country, such as workshops and conferences, theater productions, and videos; and distributed 296,000 educational materials sensitizing over 100,000 individuals to the issue of trafficking. The Mexico City government provided funding to an NGO-run anti-trafficking hotline for the capital that provided referrals to appropriate Mexican agencies for victim assistance. The NGO hotline received 646 calls in 2016, resulting in the identification of 71 individual trafficking victims and 21 groups. The National Human Rights Commission, with the support of the government, promoted a national awareness campaign in airports and bus terminals, and conducted anti-trafficking training and awareness sessions for a range of audiences.
The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission continued to work with an international organization to develop a national information system, which could track the number of victims identified, referred, and assisted across the country. The Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare published an inspection protocol for use in federal job centers with agricultural activities, which included a requirement to identify victims of forced labor and to report such crimes to law enforcement officials. The government conducted outreach to foreign migrant workers to inform them of their rights and responsibilities and inspections of worksites to detect irregular activity, including underage workers who may be vulnerable to trafficking. However, according to NGOs, authorities did not conduct enough inspections, investigate complaints, or audit supply chains; and inspectors lacked resources and faced technical difficulties in carrying out inspections. Authorities did not report efforts to regulate or hold accountable fraudulent labor recruiters.
The Secretary of Tourism instituted a new program to prevent trafficking in the travel and tourism sector; secured 692 signatures to its “code of conduct” from travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, tourist guides, training centers, and transportation providers; trained students pursuing careers in this sector; and distributed awareness materials to prevent trafficking and reduce the demand for sexual exploitation of children in tourism destinations. Despite sex tourism being an increasing problem, the government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting child sex tourists; some NGOs alleged some corrupt local officials allowed child sex tourism to occur. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Consular officials signed an agreement with an international organization to develop a consular protocol for the protection of Mexican national trafficking victims.
As reported over the past five years, Mexico is a 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, migrants, and LGBTI individuals. Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men and transgender individuals, are exploited in sex trafficking in Mexico and the United States. Mexican men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in agriculture, domestic servitude, child care, manufacturing, mining, food processing, construction, tourism, forced begging, and street vending in Mexico and the United States. Traffickers used fraudulent labor recruiters or deceptive offers of romantic relationships; or extorted through the retention of identity documents, threats to notify immigration officials of victims’ immigration status, or threats to harm family members to enslave individuals. Transgender Mexicans in commercial sex are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Some Mexicans are held in debt bondage in agriculture, and are indebted to recruiters or to the company itself. Residents at some substance addiction rehabilitation centers and women’s shelters have been subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The vast majority of foreign victims of forced labor and sex trafficking in Mexico are from Central and South America; some of these victims are exploited along Mexico’s southern border. Victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Child sex tourism remains a problem and continues to expand, especially in tourist areas and in northern border cities. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe; Mexicans also purchase sex from child sex trafficking victims. Organized criminal groups profit from sex trafficking and force Mexican and foreign men, women, and children to engage in illicit activities, including as assassins; lookouts; and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs. Trafficking-related corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, is a significant concern.