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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 investigating and prosecuting more traffickers, such as the successful prosecution of a transnational sex trafficking ring under their new accusatory system; identifying more victims in Mexico and abroad; investigating and prosecuting allegedly corrupt or complicit government officials, including the conviction of a government official to 39 years’ imprisonment; maintaining law enforcement cooperation with the United States; providing increased resources for victim services; and initiating more investigations as a result of hotline referrals. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government convicted fewer traffickers than in the previous year, although those convicted were sentenced to significant prison terms; provided inadequate 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 sometimes erroneously detained trafficking victims during operations. The government investigated and prosecuted few complaints of forced labor.

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including forced labor, at both the federal and state levels and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms.Increase victim identification and referral, especially among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers, indigenous populations, and individuals in commercial sex using existing protocols.Increase efforts to protect victims and witnesses testifying against traffickers, while ensuring they are not coerced into testifying or inappropriately misidentified as traffickers and unlawfully detained. Increase efforts to hold corrupt or complicit public officials accountable through effective prosecutions and sentence convicted officials to significant prison terms.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 for all victims, including men, and funded by the government.Increase federal funding for law enforcement efforts and victim services.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.Provide improved security and victim-centered care to victims during judicial proceedings to ensure their safety, avoid re-traumatization, and prevent unlawful detention.Train officials to seek or order restitution for victims through the victim fund as provided by law.Increase capacity and strengthen the labor inspection system, particularly in the agricultural sector, and enforce laws to hold fraudulent foreign labor recruiters accountable.Finalize, implement, and allocate sufficient resources to a national anti-trafficking action plan that is coordinated across federal, state, and local authorities.Strengthen data collection efforts.

The government increased its law enforcement efforts in investigations and prosecutions, but it obtained fewer convictions. 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 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. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 30 of 32 states had established specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units.

Authorities initiated 133 federal investigations (including one case of forced labor) and at least 545 state investigations for trafficking in 2019, compared with 112 federal and 304 state investigations in 2018, 127 federal and 298 state investigations in 2017, 188 federal and 288 state investigations in 2016, and 250 federal and 415 state investigations in 2015. Authorities initiated prosecutions against at least 522 individuals in federal and state cases in 2019, compared with 510 in 2018, 609 in 2017, 479 in 2016, and 578 in 2015. The government also cited an additional 30 individuals held in “pretrial detention” for trafficking-related offenses; these cases are awaiting prosecution. Experts noted the rise in prosecutions was in part due to an increase in state-level prosecutorial efforts in Mexico City, and the States of Mexico and Chihuahua. Authorities convicted 29 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2019, compared with 60 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2018, 95 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2017, 228 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2016, and 86 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2015. The government reported sentences ranging from two years’ to 53 years’ imprisonment; several of the state level court convictions had penalties ranging from 22 years’ to 53 years’ imprisonment. This compared to five years’ to 32 years’ imprisonment, with an average term of imprisonment of 10.5 years in 2018. Notable cases included the government’s July 2019 successful prosecution of several members of a Tlaxcala family on sex trafficking charges; this is the first trafficking case to be prosecuted under the new accusatory system, which involved a complex trafficking ring from southern Mexico to the U.S. border. State of Mexico judges convicted a mother for sex trafficking and forced begging of her two children, and sentenced her to 53 years, five months in prison plus fines and restitution. Michoacán state prosecutors convicted a woman for the sex trafficking of indigenous minors from Queretaro, and sentenced her to 30 years in prison, plus fines and restitution.

Mexican authorities maintained law enforcement cooperation with the United States, including the extradition of two traffickers to the United States, the successful prosecution of a Tlaxcala sex trafficking ring, prosecution training that led to the successful convictions with 15-, 18-, and 43-year prison sentences of three traffickers from the State of Mexico, and information assistance on three additional trafficking-related cases. The government maintained international cooperation by requesting assistance from the Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian governments to interview victims for three trafficking cases. In addition, the government reported receiving six requests for legal assistance from other countries related to trafficking cases. The government participated in drafting a memorandum of understanding with The Bahamas to facilitate information sharing and the execution of trafficking investigations. The government conducted 13 trainings for law enforcement officials focused on trafficking investigations. The Ministry of Finance’s Financial Intelligence Unit received 364 reports of suspicious financial transactions allegedly related to human trafficking, the most since its inception in 2003. It also conducted its first trafficking training related to money laundering, initiated 10 trafficking investigations in 2019, held meetings in Washington, DC, focused on financial networks involved in combating trafficking, and increased collaboration with the Organization of American States on investigations of trafficking cases. An international organization held a workshop on human trafficking for 60 judges in the State of Mexico. In 2019, the federal government dedicated 74 million pesos ($3.92 million) to the Special Prosecutor for Violence Against Women, which was responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes related to violence against women and trafficking in persons. This compared to the federal government dedicating 65 million pesos ($3.44 million) in 2018. Additionally, the government dedicated 15.53 million pesos ($822,040) in 2019 to the Specialized Unit for Investigating Trafficking in Minors, Persons, and Organs under the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime; this compared with 21 million pesos ($1.11 million) in 2018. The prosecutor’s office in Nuevo Leon published a Manual for the Attention and Detection of Trafficking in Persons. In August 2019, the government passed the Asset Forfeiture Law which allows authorities to seize trafficker’s assets.

State-level authorities outside Mexico state, Chihuahua state, and Mexico City conducted limited 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. Officials noted problems with federal prosecutions and convictions due to a lack of specialized judicial courts for human trafficking cases. Experts expressed concern over budget cuts and limited personnel, particularly in rural and indigenous communities, affecting the government’s ability to combat trafficking. Experts also cited a limited understanding of trafficking, particularly forced labor, as an impediment to the government’s response. 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 insufficient identification of victims, particularly related to forced labor, as factors limiting the government’s effectiveness.

Trafficking-related corruption remained a concern. The Special Prosecutor for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) reported four ongoing investigations into government employees engaged in trafficking crimes involving officials from the National Migration Institute (INM) who received monetary payments for facilitating the entry and illegal residency of migrant trafficking victims. In September 2019, prosecutors secured a conviction of 39 years’ imprisonment for a former federal law enforcement agent for the sex trafficking of Venezuelan women in Mexico. In October 2019, media sources reported that police from Tlaxcala forced a journalist to leave the city while she was investigating trafficking issues. In January 2020, a senator from the Labor Party presented an initiative in the Mexican Senate to additionally sanction and increase penalties for INM public servants that engage in trafficking-related crimes.

The government maintained protection efforts; however, there were issues with the identification of forced labor victims and many victims did not receive adequate shelter or specialized services. The government reported identifying 658 trafficking victims in 2019—compared to 706 victims in 2018, 667 victims in 2017, 740 victims in 2016, and 1,814 victims in 2015. Of the 658 trafficking victims identified, approximately 18 percent were male, 58 percent were female, and 24 percent with their gender unspecified, compared to 21 percent male, 54 percent female, and 25 percent gender unspecified in 2018. The federal government identified 113 compared to 146 in 2018, 140 in 2017, 194 in 2016, and 876 in 2015. The state governments identified 545 of the total victims, compared to 560 in 2018, 527 in 2017, 691 in 2016, and 938 in 2015. The government identified and provided support to an additional 933 Mexican trafficking victims abroad, including 912 in the United States and 21 in other countries, compared to 860 Mexican victims abroad in 2018, 196 Mexican forced labor victims abroad in 2017, and 20 in 2016.

Immigration and other federal officials each had formal protocols for the identification of victims. INM, in collaboration with an international organization, developed a protocol to detect and refer trafficking victims to services; in 2019, the government developed and trained personnel on this protocol. The process for referral of Mexican victims to shelters, however, was ad hoc and varied from state to state. Experts called for the government to increase its resources and training to accurately identify and refer trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and individuals in commercial sex. While victim services varied and were unavailable in some parts of the country, federal and state agencies generally 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. Specialized and integrated care for trafficking victims was inadequate, particularly for male, adolescent, rural, and forced labor victims, and victims in rural areas remained inadequate. Observers noted a lack of government funding for victim services, highlighting that child labor trafficking victims were left often without appropriate social services. NGOs, many with foreign donor or private funding, provided specialized shelters and assistance to some victims who were at times referred by officials. Some NGOs reported increased collaboration with the government on victim care. The government began efforts to centralize its assistance services to improve victim care; however, financial and human resources were not yet allocated to this strategy. The National Institute of Social Development provided 4.39 million pesos ($232,370) in 2019 for victim services, compared to 3.02 million pesos ($159,860) in 2018. In 2019, the System for the Protection of Girls, Boys, and Adolescents created the Commission for the Comprehensive Protection of Migrant Girls, Boys, and Adolescents, which includes the prevention, protection, and care of girls, boys, and adolescents who were human trafficking victims. In 2019, the Executive Commission for Victim Assistance created a prevention and gender issues-focused unit in coordination with the inter-secretarial commission against trafficking in persons. The Mexican government adopted austerity measures in response to a contracting economy and the prioritization of development initiatives, which impacted programs in every secretariat and institution, including those addressing trafficking in persons. Federal programmatic funding was further impacted by additional austerity measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts noted an overall lack of shelter and housing for victims. FEVIMTRA continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City, and reported it spent 49 percent of its total 2019 budget, 263,960 pesos ($13,970), on the shelter and related victim care expenses for 34 victims (32 female, two males; 20 adults, 13 minors, and one unspecified; 17 Mexican, 11 Colombian, four Venezuelans, one Guatemalan, and one Nicaraguan). The shelter allowed women to have their children with them. Women were not allowed to leave the shelter alone as a security precaution; NGOs expressed concern this arrangement re-traumatized some victims. The states of Mexico, Chiapas, and Mexico City continued operating six government-funded trafficking shelters; however, the shelters at both federal and state levels typically housed victims of trafficking only during a criminal prosecution. An NGO in the State of Puebla continued to operate the country’s only public-private shelter, which provided comprehensive services to 100 victims in 2019, compared to 77 victims in 2018. In addition to these shelters, there were two publicly funded Women Justice Centers in the states of Hidalgo and Guanajuato that worked jointly with the Specialized State District Attorneys for Trafficking in Persons to provide a temporary shelter for trafficking victims. There were not shelters for males above the age of 13. Government centers for crime victims provided some trafficking victims with emergency services, as did state-level prosecutorial, social service, and human rights offices. During 2019, the government signed six new memorandums of understanding involving the Mexican consular network in the United States and U.S. local entities specializing in human trafficking to provide care to Mexican victims in the United States. Mexican consular officials abroad operated special windows in the United States to identify situations of risk for trafficking among migrant children, women, and indigenous persons.

In 2019, the INM provided temporary immigration relief in the form of humanitarian visas to 60 victims of human trafficking or illicit smuggling and did not report the number of repatriated victims of human trafficking or illicit smuggling; this compared to 241 humanitarian visas and 399 victims repatriated in 2018. 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 their country of origin, length of legal proceedings, 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 2020. The law provided victims with protection from punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, NGOs reported the government sometimes mistakenly detained trafficking victims on these charges. Some officials transferred victims to shelters to serve as detention facilities until the cases were completed. 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. Few victims filed complaints or assisted in investigations and prosecutions due to their fear of retribution from traffickers, the lack of specialized services and security, or distrust of authorities. NGOs also reported officials often re-traumatized trafficking victims due to lack of sensitivity and the lack of adequate protection for victims during criminal proceedings. Experts expressed concern that prosecutors coerced some victims to testify during judicial proceedings. Observers noted that indigenous victims experienced discrimination within the judicial system. The national anti-trafficking law provided for restitution from a victims’ fund that was unfunded and no victims received restitution; this compared with two victims receiving restitution in 2018.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The inter-secretarial anti-trafficking commission coordinated with 45 government agencies and institutes, met twice in 2019, and its subcommittee met four times to prepare the annual work program and present the results of ongoing initiatives. The commission updated the national training program; amended internal regulations; reviewed and further developed its national information system on human trafficking; and created prevention campaigns and dissemination strategies. With the expiration of its national anti-trafficking action plan in 2018, the commission created six working groups of government, civil society, and academic members and held roundtables around the country to draft a new plan for 2020-2024; however, the government did not complete the plan by the end of the reporting period.

Experts noted Mexico’s lack of a comprehensive approach, planning, and evaluation of the government’s anti-trafficking activities. The National Human Rights Commission (CDNH) published its five-year assessment of trafficking in Mexico and noted the need to: improve proactive victim identification; inter-institutional coordination, research and analysis on local, regional, and national trafficking patterns; increase attention to the trafficking vulnerabilities of rural and indigenous communities; increase allocation of resources for NGOs to improve victim services and shelter; resource the victims fund for restitution; improve data collection of traffickers and case management of victims; increase public awareness campaigns of the risk of trafficking for Mexicans abroad, school-age children, rural and indigenous communities; and assess identification protocols. Twenty-nine out of 31 states had state-level anti-trafficking committees. The government passed a ban on marriage for children younger than 18 years of age in 31 of 32 states to protect children and prevent forced marriage.

The Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) inaugurated the National Human Rights Program 2019-2024 to consolidate national policy around human rights and trafficking in persons. In the first phase of this program, SEGOB held 14 forums in 11 states with the participation of 2,383 public servants; in the second phase, SEGOB organized 31 working group sessions with participants from NGOs, government, academics, and experts. SEGOB established a capacity-building working group within the anti-trafficking commission, which delivered several anti-trafficking training courses to government officials. The government provided a variety of anti-trafficking training and awareness programs for government officials and the public to improve trafficking investigations. Several state governments partnered with an international organization to deliver anti-trafficking workshops involving victim identification and assistance to government officials and NGOs, including those serving indigenous populations. The government partnered with other NGOs to conduct public awareness campaigns at universities, schools, and with civil society organizations. The government also created public awareness campaigns on social media platforms. In October 2018, the Mexican National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Populations, the Government of Canada, and an international organization announced a project to identify and prevent trafficking in Mexican indigenous communities; awareness raising tools were under development during the reporting period. NGOs commented that the government could make more effort to clarify the definition of human trafficking (particularly involving forced labor), increase efforts, and conduct more evaluations of its public awareness campaigns. Experts also noted that prevention campaigns were not targeted at children or adolescents, rural and indigenous communities, or communities needing language translation and/or interpreters.

The NGO-run anti-trafficking hotline received 3,526 calls in 2019, compared to 1,389 calls in 2018. Of those calls, 316 were determined to be potential trafficking-related cases (77 percent sex trafficking, 14 percent forced labor). This compared to 131 potential trafficking cases identified in 2018 and 103 calls in 2017. From the 3,526 calls, the government opened 88 investigations. Hotline workers reported an increase in open investigations by the government from hotline reporting, with 17 open investigations from previous years in 2019, compared to two in 2018. The government operated additional hotlines, including one from the prosecutor general’s office and one for crimes against women and trafficking crimes. The government initiated two investigations for trafficking in persons as a result of calls to the prosecutor general’s hotline. The NGO-run and Mexico City prosecutor general’s office hotlines identified 229 victims.

The Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) had a requirement and protocol to identify victims of forced labor in registered businesses and farms and to report such crimes to law enforcement officials; the government did not report identifying victims of forced labor through the use of this protocol in 2019. Observers noted resource constraints, a limited number of inspectors and inspections, requirements of a 24-hour notice for inspections, lack of understanding of labor trafficking, lack of clarity between federal versus state jurisdictions, and no oversight of the informal economy hampered consistent enforcement of labor laws and the identification of forced labor, particularly among children, indigenous populations, and other vulnerable groups. 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 and security concerns 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 worker-paid recruitment fees, authorities did not report efforts to inspect, regulate, or hold accountable delinquent 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, employers illegally holding wages and making threats of violence or nonpayment of wages if workers leave, and few registrations of recruiters and corresponding labor inspections of their operations.

The government established a pilot program to enroll domestic employees in social security following the passage of a new law requiring employers to formalize their status and allow them other protections prescribed for in the formal employment sector. NGO and industry officials reported Mexican government efforts to combat forced labor in public and private supply chains were insufficient due to limited capacity and resources. The government ratified ILO Convention 189, which guarantees the promotion and protection of human rights for domestic workers. In conjunction with the ILO, STPS joined the Alliance 8.7, which is a voluntary group of member states committed to achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Target 8.7 aimed at ending forced labor, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labor. With financial and technical assistance from NGOs and a foreign government, STPS launched a new project to promote and protect labor rights in the Mexican sugarcane and tobacco sectors in Jalisco and Nayarit, increase the government’s capacity to enforce labor laws and conduct labor inspections, create a new case management and grievance reporting systems, and create public awareness campaigns to Mexican farmworkers and the public.

Several NGOs reported tourism officials in Merida, Yucatan, Zacatecas, and Campeche conducted awareness campaigns. Through support from an NGO, the government provided training on its “code of conduct” for travel agencies, hotels, restaurants, tourist guides, training centers, and transportation providers in five states. The government had laws to facilitate the investigation, prosecution, or conviction of child sex tourists but did not report any such cases. In collaboration with the United States, the government maintained the Angel Watch Program, which compared registered American sex offenders against travel information. The government provided an online anti-trafficking course for its diplomats. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructed Mexico’s 50 consulates in the United States to strengthen anti-trafficking collaboration mechanisms. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

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 at risk for trafficking in Mexico include women, children and unaccompanied minors, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants, and LGBTQI 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 service, 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. Observers report some Mexicans are held in debt bondage in agriculture by recruiters or 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 2019. 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, and could include refugees and asylum-seekers. 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.

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, murders, and trafficking by organized criminal groups. Experts 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 and foreign migrants by organized criminal groups for the purpose of forced criminality. Authorities reported that the economic vulnerability of migrants left them susceptible to various forms of trafficking. Trafficking-related corruption continued 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. Authorities reported the use of bitcoin for money laundering involving trafficking crimes. In light of bars and nightclubs shut down due to COVID-19, government, NGO, and media reports indicated that traffickers in Tlaxcala were using people’s homes for sex trafficking of women.

U.S. Department of State

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