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.