Mexico

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 2

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 prosecuting more traffickers than in the previous year; identifying and providing support to trafficking victims subjected to forced labor in Mexico and abroad; and launching a new national awareness-raising campaign. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government obtained fewer convictions than in the previous year; identified fewer victims than in the previous year; provided limited specialized services for trafficking victims, which were unavailable in most parts of the country; and maintained an inadequate number of shelters compared to the scale of the problem. The government inspected and prosecuted few complaints of forced labor in agriculture, in part due to a lack of resources. Corruption and complicity remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEXICO

Strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict traffickers, especially for forced labor crimes; fully implement victim identification and referral protocols; 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; increase funding for law enforcement efforts and victim services; 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; increase efforts to protect victims and witnesses testifying against traffickers, while ensuring they are not coerced into testifying or inappropriately misidentified as traffickers; train officials to seek restitution for victims as provided by law; strengthen the labor inspection system, particularly in the agricultural sector, and enforce laws to hold fraudulent foreign labor recruiters accountable; increase efforts to hold public officials complicit in trafficking accountable through effective prosecutions and stringent sentences; amend anti-trafficking laws at the federal and state levels to incorporate the definition of trafficking in international law; strengthen data collection efforts; and improve coordination mechanisms among federal, state, and local authorities.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The 2012 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five to 30 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime. The law defined trafficking broadly to include labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. 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. Twenty-three of 31 states, compared to only 14 in 2016, had aligned their trafficking laws with the federal law, which could address inconsistencies among those states’ laws and improve interstate investigations and prosecutions. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 27 of 31 states had established specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units by the end of 2017.

Authorities initiated 127 federal and 298 state investigations in 2017, compared to 188 federal and 288 state investigations in 2016 and 250 federal and 415 state investigations for trafficking in 2015. Authorities initiated prosecutions against 609 individuals in federal and state cases in 2017, compared to 479 in 2016 and 578 in 2015. Authorities convicted 95 traffickers involved in 40 federal and state cases, compared to 228 traffickers involved in 127 federal and state cases in 2016 and 86 traffickers involved in 36 federal and state cases in 2015. The government reported sentences ranging from two years to 99 years imprisonment. The number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions include cases that would not be defined as trafficking under international law. Mexican authorities maintained law enforcement cooperation with the United States, partnering on three joint law enforcement operations, which resulted in the arrest of at least 14 alleged traffickers. The government provided anti-trafficking training to the federal police, federal prosecutors, immigration officials, medical professionals, federal child and family protection workers, federal tourism officials, and state government officials.

In 2017, the federal government dedicated at least 6.7 million pesos ($340,030) for investigations and prosecutions; this figure included funding for the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women, but not the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime and overall represented a decrease in funding from the previous year. In June 2016, the government completed a lengthy transition to an accusatory criminal justice system at the federal and state level, which impacted the overall number of convictions. Investigations and prosecutions were sometimes delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction or coordinated with officials in other parts of the country, which caused additional stress for victims. 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, but at least one recent Mexican Supreme Court opinion revealed an understanding of Mexican trafficking law as related to international trafficking law. NGOs noted weaknesses in the government’s application of the law, including misuse or misunderstanding of the law, an overly broad legal definition of trafficking, failure to perform official functions, and improper identification of and inadequate support for victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses; however, corruption and complicity remained significant concerns.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts, but identified fewer victims for the second consecutive year. The government reported identifying 667 trafficking victims in 2017—429 for sex trafficking, 103 for forced labor or services, eight for forced begging, eight for forced criminality, four for other purposes, and 115 unspecified—compared to 740 victims in 2016 and 1,814 in 2015. Of the 667 trafficking victims identified, approximately 15 percent were male, 66 percent were female, and 19 percent did not have their gender specified. The federal government identified 140 victims, compared to 194 in 2016 and 876 in 2015. The state governments identified 527 victims, compared to 691 in 2016 and 938 in 2015. The Ministry of Foreign Relations identified and provided support to 196 Mexican forced labor victims abroad, including 180 in the United States and 16 in other countries, compared to 20 in 2016. Government officials used several procedures or protocols to proactively identify victims: immigration officials used the “Process for Detection, Identification, and Attention to Foreign Trafficking Victims;” federal officials used the “Protocol for the Use of Processes and Resources for the Rescue, Assistance, Attention and Protection of Trafficking Victims;” and Mexican consular officials abroad operated special windows in consulates in the U.S. to identify situations of vulnerability among migrant children, women, and indigenous persons. The government collaborated with an international organization, which had developed specific state-level protocols in 17 of 31 states for victim identification and assistance, to train government officials. NGOs and the media challenged the government to continue to improve its ability to accurately identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and individuals in prostitution. Many victims reported they were afraid to identify themselves as trafficking victims or, if identified, to testify against their traffickers in court under the accusatorial system; 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.

While victim services vary, in general, federal and state agencies offered victims emergency services, such as medical care, food, and housing in temporary or transitional homes; and long-term victim services, such as medical, psychological, and legal services. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City and provided shelter to 52 trafficking victims. Women were allowed to have their children with them at the shelter. Women were not allowed to leave the shelter alone; NGOs expressed concern that this arrangement re-traumatized some victims, but officials maintained it was critical for ensuring their safety. An NGO in the State of Puebla continued to operate the country’s only public-private shelter. The State of Mexico opened three trafficking-specific shelters in 2016; and the City of Mexico opened a trafficking-specific shelter, which provided medical, legal, psychological, and social services to victims during pending cases. In addition to these shelters, there are two publicly 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 for trafficking victims. NGOs reported some shelters relied on the prosecutor’s office to identify victims and received funding based on the number of victims housed, which some observers suggested could create an incentive to hold victims pending the conclusion of a case and potentially compromise the shelter’s independence and sustainability of operations.

In 2017, the Executive Committee for Victim Assistance (CEAV) signed an agreement for the creation of an emergency fund of approximately 3 million pesos ($152,250) to support trafficking victims mandated by the 2012 anti-trafficking law, which began to provide funding in April 2017. The National Institute of Social Development (INDESOL) provided 598,500 pesos ($30,370) to two NGOs to provide victim services to 76 trafficking victims. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) provided victim services to 98 trafficking victims who were participating in the legal process against their exploiters. The National Children and Family Services System (DIF) provided assistance to 78 victims. The National Security System (CNS) provided assistance to 126 victims. The National Institute of Migration (INM) provided assistance to 31 potential foreign trafficking victims and issued temporary immigration relief in the form of humanitarian visas to 25 victims in 2017, compared to four victims in 2016. Humanitarian visas enabled foreign trafficking victims to remain in the country up to 60 working days or 90 calendar days, and may be extended. Some government officials and NGOs expressed concern humanitarian visas were not granted as often as they should be due to a failure to identify eligible foreign trafficking victims and the waiting time for processing requests for immigration relief. NGOs, many with foreign donor or private funding, also provided specialized shelters and assistance. Despite these efforts, services for male, adolescent, and forced labor victims and victims in rural areas remained inadequate. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission provided funding to an international organization to develop a national information system to track the number of victims identified, referred, and assisted across the country; the government completed the first phase of installation in 2017 and began incorporating additional data with the goal of full implementation in 2018.

The law provided victims with protection 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 victims. Some officials transferred victims to 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. The national anti-trafficking law provided for restitution to be paid from a victims’ fund, but the government did not report whether the courts awarded any trafficking victims restitution.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission coordinated with more than 30 government agencies and institutes; established cooperation agreements with state and local governments and the National Human Rights Commission, which coordinated regional committees to address human rights issues, including trafficking in persons; and monitored the implementation of the national anti-trafficking action plan for 2014-2018 and published a report of its anti-trafficking efforts for 2017. Twenty-eight out of 31 states had state-level anti-trafficking committees. The national anti-trafficking commission hosted a national meeting of the technical secretaries with representation from 29 states. The government provided anti-trafficking training and awareness-raising programs nationwide for government officials, including health professionals and the general public reaching more than 11 percent of the population. With U.S. government support, the federal government launched a national awareness-raising campaign called Blue Heart Campaign 2.0 in July 2017, including targeted messages for repatriated migrants, indigenous communities, disabled persons, women, children, and youth. The government operated several hotlines to report emergencies, crime in general, for victims of crime, for crimes against women and trafficking crimes, and promoted the reporting of trafficking tips to an NGO-run national anti-trafficking hotline. The NGO-run hotline received 981 calls in 2017, resulting in the identification of 103 calls with trafficking indicators and 22 investigations. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), with the support of the government, continued to promote a national awareness campaign in airports and bus terminals, and conducted anti-trafficking training and awareness sessions for a range of audiences. CNDH also collaborated with the State of Yucatan to raise awareness of trafficking in rural and indigenous communities, publishing materials in 21 indigenous languages.

The Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare used an inspection protocol 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. In 2017, inspectors conducted 132 inspections, identifying 54 children working in agriculture in violation of the law, and issued 5,667 protection measures, although the government did not specify how many were related to forced labor or trafficking. 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. According to NGOs, authorities conducted very few inspections in major farming states, investigated few complaints, and imposed only modest fines, although a few high profile cases resulted in criminal prosecutions; and inspectors lacked resources and faced technical difficulties in carrying out inspections. While Mexican law criminalized fraudulent labor recruiting, authorities did not report efforts to regulate or hold accountable fraudulent labor recruiters.

The Secretary of Tourism implemented a program to prevent trafficking and sex tourism, which included a “code of conduct” for travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, tourist guides, training centers, and transportation providers; training for students pursuing careers in this sector; and the distribution of awareness materials to prevent trafficking and reduce the demand for commercial sex acts from children in tourism destinations. Mexico participated in several international fora on trafficking in persons, including the fourth annual trilateral trafficking in persons working group meeting with Canada and the United States and shared best practices in the area of monitoring financial transactions potentially linked to human trafficking. CNS hosted the first summit for law enforcement from countries in the Americas to exchange best practices, offer training, and promote international cooperation on trafficking resulting in the signing of a declaration by representatives of 33 police forces. The government had laws to facilitate the investigation, prosecution, or conviction of child sex tourists, but did not report any such cases. Some NGOs alleged corrupt local officials allowed child sex tourism to occur in isolated incidents, but the government did not take action in these cases. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government collaborated with an international organization to develop a consular protocol for the protection of Mexican national trafficking victims, completing a field study of nine Mexican consulates in 2017.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

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. Day laborers and their children are particularly vulnerable to and are the primary victims of forced and child labor in Mexico’s agricultural sector; migrating from the poorest states to the agricultural regions to harvest vegetables, coffee, sugar, and tobacco; receiving little or no pay, health care, or time off, and in the case of children, being denied education. NGOs report some Mexicans are held in debt bondage in agriculture, and are indebted to recruiters or to the company itself. International organizations and NGOs estimated more than 375,000 people exploited in forced labor in Mexico, placing the country at the top of the list for countries in the Americas; however, observers surveyed government and NGO statistics finding fewer than 1,500 forced labor victims identified from 2013 to 2017. Transgender Mexicans in commercial sex are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Observers reported potential trafficking cases in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, women’s shelters, and government institutions for people with disabilities including by organized criminal groups and facility employees. 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. NGOs and the media report victims from the Caribbean, South America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Observers reported an increase in Venezuelan migrants vulnerable to trafficking over the past two years.

The government, the UN, international organizations, NGOs, and the media reported increased participation by organized criminal groups in trafficking and the creation of complex alliances with federal, state, and local government officials in at least 17 of 32 states to commit trafficking and related crimes. 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. Observers noted links between women’s disappearances and murders and trafficking in persons by organized criminal groups. The UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights expressed concern over the recruitment and use of torture and murder by organized criminal groups of indigenous children and youth to exploit them in forced criminality. Observers also expressed concern over recruitment of recently deported Mexican nationals by organized criminal groups for the purpose of forced criminality. International observers denounced the murder in November 2017 of a Veracruz state attorney specializing in violence against women and human trafficking cases noting the extreme levels of violence that permeate the country and the risks taken by public officials to defend vulnerable individuals. Trafficking-related corruption and complicity among some public officials, including law enforcement and immigration officials continues to raise concern. NGOs reported 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 children who have been subjected to sex trafficking.