MEXICO: Tier 2

The Government of Mexico does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Mexico remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more victims in Mexico and abroad, investigating and prosecuting allegedly corrupt or complicit government officials, and maintaining law enforcement cooperation with the United States. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer traffickers 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 several instances of complicity among some public officials inhibited law enforcement action against trafficking.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses at both the federal and state levels and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms. • Strengthen the capacity and integrity of the criminal justice system to effectively process trafficking cases and to provide safeguards to ensure victims participate. • Increase efforts to protect victims and witnesses testifying against traffickers, while ensuring they are not coerced into testifying or inappropriately misidentified as traffickers. • Increase efforts to hold corrupt or complicit public officials accountable through effective prosecutions and sentence convicted officials to significant prison terms. • Increase victim identification and referral, especially among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and individuals in prostitution using existing protocols. • Increase federal funding for law enforcement efforts and victim services, including through the use of the fund mandated by the 2012 anti-trafficking law. • Increase the capacity of federal and state specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units to respond more effectively to trafficking cases, through increased funding and staff training. • Train officials to seek or order 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. • 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. • Strengthen data collection efforts. • Improve coordination mechanisms among federal, state, and local authorities.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The 2012 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of five to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines for sex trafficking offenses and five to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines for labor trafficking; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. Federal officials had jurisdiction over all international trafficking cases, all cases that took place on federally administered territory involving organized crime, and all cases involving allegations against government officials. States investigated other internal trafficking cases. Twenty-eight states had enacted trafficking laws by the end of 2018. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 30 states had established specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units by the end of 2018.

Authorities initiated 112 federal and 304 state investigations in 2018, compared with 127 federal and 298 state investigations in 2017, 188 federal and 288 state investigations in 2016, and 250 federal and 415 state investigations for trafficking in 2015. Authorities initiated prosecutions against 510 individuals in federal and state cases in 2018 compared with 609 individuals in federal and state cases in 2017, 479 in 2016, and 578 in 2015. Authorities convicted 60 traffickers involved in 25 federal and 35 state cases, compared with 95 traffickers involved in 40 federal and state cases in 2017, 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 five years’ to 32 years’ imprisonment, with an average term of imprisonment of 10.5 years. Notable cases included the arrest of eleven alleged traffickers and the identification of 60 indigenous women and children in forced labor in a street begging operation in the state of Oaxaca; the arrest of an alleged trafficker and police officer and the identification of 17 victims from Venezuela, Colombia, and Paraguay exploited in sex trafficking through an online sexual services provider; and the sentencing of a trafficker for slavery and forced labor in street begging to 33 years, eight months, and 29 days’ imprisonment, a fine of 438,000 pesos ($22,290), and restitution to the victim of 70,000 pesos ($3,560). The Federal Police created a national anti-trafficking investigative unit in June 2018. Mexican authorities maintained law enforcement cooperation with the United States, partnering on 13 joint law enforcement operations, which resulted in the extradition of eight individuals, including seven alleged traffickers and the sentencing of a trafficker to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of $1.3 million in a U.S. federal court. An international organization provided multidisciplinary victim-centered trainings for federal and state prosecutors in 29 Mexican states. Mexican prosecutors participated in courses on child trafficking and in mentoring sessions offered by a foreign government to deepen expertise in prosecuting such cases, effectively working with victims, and preserving evidence to support prosecution. In August 2018, Mexico City prosecutors presented a report analyzing trafficking sentences and recommended joint investigations between prosecutors and police, and efficient prosecutions.

In 2018, the federal government dedicated 65 million pesos ($3.31 million) to investigations and prosecutions by the Special Prosecutor for Violence against Women, which was responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes related to violence against women and trafficking in persons. Additionally, the government dedicated 21 million pesos ($1.07 million) to the Specialized Unit for Investigating Trafficking in Minors, Persons, and Organs under the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime. In June 2016, the government completed a lengthy transition to an adversarial criminal justice system at the federal and state level, which continued to impact the overall number of convictions. Authorities conducted an insufficient number of proactive investigations, and 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. NGOs expressed concern budget cuts affected the government’s ability to combat trafficking as did a limited understanding of trafficking, particularly forced labor. NGOs also 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 as factors limiting the government’s effectiveness. Trafficking-related corruption and several instances of complicity among some public officials remained concerns. In April 2018, the media reported human traffickers allegedly paid between 14,000 and 19,000 pesos ($712 to $967) to immigration officials to facilitate the entrance of Venezuelan women who traffickers recruited through false promises of employment and exploited in sex trafficking through an online sexual services provider. The Mexico City Attorney General’s office investigated immigration officials for their alleged role in this scheme and arrested a police officer allegedly involved in the operation. In November 2018, the State of Mexico’s Special Prosecutor for Trafficking reported federal police allegedly hampered operations against the same online sexual services provider. A State of Mexico judge sentenced a former municipal police officer to four years and 11 months’ imprisonment after the officer admitted to trafficking. The federal government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts, but provided limited specialized services for trafficking victims, which were unavailable in most parts of the country. The government reported identifying 706 trafficking victims in 2018—387 for sex trafficking, 153 for potential forced labor or labor exploitation, and 166 unspecified—compared to 667 trafficking victims in 2017, 740 victims in 2016, and 1,814 victims in 2015. Of the 706 trafficking victims identified, approximately 21 percent were male, 54 percent were female, and 25 percent with their gender unspecified, compared to 15 percent male, 66 percent female, and 19 percent gender unspecified in 2017. The federal government identified 146 of the total victims, compared to 140 in 2017, 194 in 2016, and 876 in 2015. The state governments identified 560 of the total victims, compared to 527 in 2017, 691 in 2016, and 938 in 2015. The Ministry of Foreign Relations identified and provided support to an additional 860 Mexican trafficking victims abroad, including 843 in the United States and 17 in other countries, compared to 196 Mexican forced labor victims abroad in 2017, and 20 in 2016. The NGO-run hotline identified 584 victims—78 percent female and 19 percent male, and 9 percent with their gender unspecified—some of whom were subsequently referred to the government.

Immigration and other federal officials each had formal protocols for the proactive identification of victims. Mexican consular officials abroad operated special windows in U.S. consulates to identify situations of vulnerability among migrant children, women, and indigenous persons. The government collaborated with an international organization that had developed specific state-level protocols in 24 of 31 states for victim identification and assistance and provided training for government officials in its use. NGOs 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 varied and were unavailable in some parts of the country, in general, federal and state agencies offered victims emergency services, such as medical care, food, and housing in temporary or transitional homes, and longer-term victim services, such as medical, psychological, and legal services, often in partnership with NGOs. The federal government supported a national network of shelters and emergency attention centers for female victims of violence, but few offered specialized care for trafficking victims. NGOs, many with foreign donor or private funding, provided specialized shelters and assistance to some victims who were sometimes referred by officials. Despite these efforts, services for male, adolescent, and forced labor victims, and victims in rural areas remained inadequate. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City, but it did not report how many victims it provided with shelter in 2018. 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. An NGO in the State of Puebla continued to operate the country’s only public-private shelter, which provided comprehensive services to 77 victims in 2018, including education and vocational training to assist 45 survivors and their children to reintegrate into society. The State of Mexico continued to operate three trafficking-specific shelters opened 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.

The National Institute of Social Development (INDESOL) provided 3.02 million pesos ($153,660) to 11 NGOs to provide victim services to 110 trafficking victims. In 2018, the National Institute of Migration provided temporary immigration relief in the form of humanitarian visas to 241 victims of human trafficking or illicit smuggling and repatriated 399 victims of human trafficking or illicit smuggling. Humanitarian visas enabled foreign trafficking victims to remain in the country up to one year, and could be extended. Some government officials and NGOs expressed concern authorities did not grant humanitarian visas as often as they should due to a failure to identify eligible foreign trafficking victims, victims’ lack of awareness of the process for obtaining such relief, victims’ desire to return to his or her country of origin, and the waiting time for processing requests for immigration relief. 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, incorporated additional data in 2018, and planned to implement the system in 2019.

The law provided victims with protection from punishment for unlawful acts their traffickers coerced them to commit. Some officials transferred victims to the National Institute of Migration (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. The government did not report how many victims received restitution from their traffickers, but the media reported two victims received 293,000 pesos ($14,910) and 70,000 pesos ($3,560), respectively.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission coordinated with 40 government agencies and institutes, meeting twice in 2018 to commemorate UN World Day Against Trafficking and to present the results of ongoing work; facilitated a meeting with leaders of the state anti-trafficking committees to discuss federal state coordination; and monitored the implementation of the national anti-trafficking action plan for 2014-2018 by publishing a report of its anti-trafficking efforts for 2018. Twenty-nine out of 31 states had state-level anti-trafficking committees. The government provided anti-trafficking training and awareness-raising programs for government officials, hotel and restaurant workers, students, teachers, and the public. The government produced a new brochure to educate the public about indicators of trafficking. The government promoted the UNODC Blue Heart Campaign, which included the NGO-run hotline number on billboards, lottery tickets, postage stamps, and posters and a targeted campaign on UN World Day Against Trafficking in Persons in July 2018. The NGO-run hotline received 1,389 calls in 2018, which resulted in the identification of 131 potential trafficking cases (71 percent sex trafficking, 18 percent forced labor, 11 percent unidentified), compared to 981 calls in 2017, resulting in the identification of 103 calls with trafficking indicators. The government operated additional hotlines, including one for crimes against women and trafficking crimes, and promoted the reporting of trafficking tips to an NGO-run national anti-trafficking hotline. In October 2018, the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Populations, the Government of Canada, and the UNODC announced a project to identify and prevent trafficking in Mexican indigenous communities. 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.

The Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS), together with an international organization, trained federal labor inspectors to use 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; however the government did not report identifying victims of forced labor through the use of this protocol in 2018. The government laid off STPS officials, including labor inspectors, reducing capacity to identify forced labor. Observers noted resource constraints, a limited number of inspectors, and no oversight of the informal economy hampered consistent enforcement of labor laws and the identification of forced labor. Authorities arrested suspected traffickers who allegedly exploited individuals in forced labor, but conducted very few inspections in major farming states, investigated few complaints, and did not report successful prosecutions for the crimes. Inspectors lacked resources and faced technical difficulties in carrying out inspections. The government conducted outreach to foreign migrant workers to inform them of their rights and responsibilities. While Mexican law criminalized fraudulent labor recruiting and prohibited charging recruitment fees, authorities did not report efforts to regulate or hold accountable fraudulent labor recruiters. NGOs reported authorities failed to enforce this law and its regulations, which resulted in workers being charged exorbitant recruitment fees, a factor that often leads to debt bondage to either the recruiter or employer, and very few registrations of recruiters and corresponding labor inspections of their operations. State labor ministries convened in August 2018 to discuss forced labor of agricultural workers, and the government announced a new plan against forced labor but the government did not report whether further action was taken in 2018.

The Secretary of Tourism, together with civil society, 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. NGOs alleged the government had not implemented the “code of conduct,” but the government reported it offered training on the “code of conduct” and secured additional business signatories in 2018. The government had laws to facilitate the investigation, prosecution, or conviction of child sex tourists but did not report any such cases. Mexico participated in several international fora on trafficking, including the fifth annual trilateral trafficking in persons working group meeting with Canada and the United States where it shared best practices related to technology and trafficking. In November 2018, the government published a consular protocol for the protection of Mexican national trafficking victims, developed by an international organization and with funding from a foreign government, which has assisted Mexican officials to identify trafficking victims abroad.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mexico, and traffickers exploit victims from Mexico abroad. Groups considered most vulnerable to trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants, and LGBTI individuals. Traffickers recruit and exploit Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men and transgender individuals, in sex trafficking in Mexico and the United States through false promises of employment, romantic relationships, or extortion. Traffickers exploit Mexican men, women, and children in forced labor in agriculture, domestic servitude, child care, manufacturing, mining, food processing, construction, tourism, begging, and street vending in Mexico and the United States. Traffickers exploit day laborers and their children in forced labor in Mexico’s agricultural sector; these individuals migrate from the poorest states to the agricultural regions to harvest vegetables, coffee, sugar, and tobacco; receive little or no pay, health care, or time off, may live in substandard housing, and in the case of children, are denied education. NGOs report some Mexicans are held in debt bondage in agriculture and are indebted to recruiters or to the company itself. NGOs estimated traffickers increasingly exploited individuals in forced labor in Mexico; but government and NGO statistics showed fewer than 1,500 forced labor victims identified from 2013 to 2017. Transgender Mexicans working 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, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela; traffickers exploited some of these victims 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 three years and concerns about migrants in general as a vulnerable population.

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, including Mexican legislators, noted links between violence against women and girls and between women’s disappearances and murders and trafficking 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. Trafficking-related corruption and several instances of complicity among some public officials, including law enforcement and immigration officials, continue 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 child trafficking victims.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico
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