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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 significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mexico remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers; identifying more victims; and arresting two former public officials for allegedly running a sex trafficking operation. Courts convicted more labor traffickers, including some who exploited children by forcing them to transport illegal substances. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government failed to allocate funds to a legally-required victim assistance fund; authorities did not consistently employ a victim-centered approach; and overall services for victims were inadequate. The government did not improve efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable populations and refer possible victims to service providers. Fraudulent recruitment practices continued to be widespread, but the government did not take steps to hold recruiters or labor agents accountable.

  • Develop, implement, and fund a national strategic action plan on victim services, in consultation with international organizations and NGOs, to include shelters, comprehensive services, and reintegration support for all victims, including men and boys, LGBTQI+ individuals, and Indigenous persons.
  • Develop and implement standardized operating procedures (SOPs) for front-line officials to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups in Mexico and overseas—including individuals in commercial sex, children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, Cuban medical professionals, and migrants, including migrant workers—and refer them to service providers for assistance.
  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including forced labor and those involving complicit officials, at both the federal and state levels.
  • Increase and institutionalize anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, immigration authorities, and service providers, with a focus on applying trauma-informed, victim-centered procedures.
  • Provide improved security to victims and witnesses testifying against traffickers, and ensure victims are not unlawfully detained, coerced into testifying, or otherwise re-traumatized.
  • Allocate funds to a legally-required victim assistance fund to cover restitution payments convicted traffickers are unable to pay and develop a mechanism to ensure victims receive court-ordered payments.
  • Strengthen the labor law to adequately criminalize and establish stringent penalties for recruitment practices that facilitate trafficking, and increase enforcement to punish employers and labor recruiters for violations.
  • Enact anti-trafficking legislation and establish specialized anti-trafficking prosecution units in all states.
  • Enact, implement, and allocate sufficient resources toward a new national action plan (NAP) that is coordinated across federal, state, and local authorities.
  • Conduct culturally-relevant awareness campaigns in local languages targeted for rural and Indigenous communities.
  • Strengthen data collection efforts.

The government increased law enforcement efforts, but it did not provide complete data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions at the federal and state levels. The 2012 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of five to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines for sex trafficking crimes 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. Thirty states had trafficking laws. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 31 of 32 states had established specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units. Local experts reported prosecutors sometimes charged suspects with crimes they believed were easier to prove, such as homicide or kidnapping, particularly in states where prosecutors’ offices were underfunded. The 2019 Asset Forfeiture Law allowed authorities to seize traffickers’ assets. In July 2021, the Supreme Court denied a request for an injunction filed by suspects who argued that the separate charges they faced for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation amounted to being judged twice for the same crime. The court deemed that each charge involved separate actions and upheld the government’s ability to prosecute suspects for both crimes.

Authorities initiated at least 35 federal investigations and 621 state investigations in 2021, compared with 55 federal investigations and 550 state investigations in 2020, and 133 federal investigations and at least 544 state investigations in 2019. Federal investigations included 23 sex trafficking cases, five labor trafficking cases, and seven cases involving unspecified exploitation. Federal authorities initiated prosecution of 31 suspected traffickers and continued 45 prosecutions opened in previous years for a total of 76 federal prosecutions in 2021. In comparison, authorities initiated prosecutions of 40 suspects and continued prosecutions of 35 suspects in 2020. The government reported state-level prosecutions in 22 states for a total of 95 suspects prosecuted. In comparison, the government reported state-level prosecutions in 14 states for a total of 51 suspects prosecuted in 2020. Although federal authorities did not issue any convictions in 2021, state authorities convicted 75 traffickers, including 65 sex traffickers and 10 labor traffickers, two of whom forced children to transport illicit substances. This was an overall increase from 49 traffickers convicted in 2020 and 29 traffickers convicted in 2019. Nonetheless, a lack of coordination among labor inspectors, criminal justice authorities, and service providers hampered efforts to hold labor traffickers criminally accountable and provide comprehensive assistance for labor trafficking victims. The government issued sentences for convicted traffickers ranging from 3 years to 135 years’ imprisonment, and also ordered many to pay fines and restitution. The Secretariat of Finance’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) reported suspicious financial transactions and its intelligence uncovered 201 possible cases of trafficking in 2021, compared with 230 reports of suspicious financial transactions allegedly related to trafficking in 2020. Over the three-year period 2019-2021, UIF froze 1,617 bank accounts and more than $52 million in funds connected to human trafficking crimes.

Mexican prosecutors collaborated on 13 cases with authorities from other countries. State-level specialized prosecution units, whose capacity levels, staffing, and funding varied widely, had the primary responsibility for enforcing anti-trafficking laws throughout the country. Prosecutor offices in rural and Indigenous communities were particularly understaffed and lacked sufficient resources to effectively prosecute trafficking crimes. Coordination across state and federal levels continued to be slow. Authorities from the four states of Mexico City, State of Mexico, Baja California, and Nuevo Leon conducted more than half of all investigations in 2020, while authorities in Durango, Guanajuato and Colima did not investigate any suspected cases. The government identified the states of Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Guerrero as having a high trafficking prevalence, but authorities in these states did not convict any traffickers for at least the second consecutive year. Local experts reported insufficient funding for prosecutors in these states led them to charge suspects with crimes they believed easier to prove. The government trained 820 state and local police officers across ten states on anti-trafficking protocols. The Special Prosecutor for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) held four virtual anti-trafficking training sessions for 749 of its employees.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Some government officials facilitated or participated in trafficking crimes. The government operated a hotline and website open to the public for the anonymous reporting of suspected corruption involving public officials, but it did not report receiving any trafficking-related tips. In 2021, authorities investigated and detained a public servant for alleged involvement in child sex trafficking crimes, but they did not provide details on the status of the investigation or whether charges had been filed. During the reporting period, authorities arrested and charged two former employees of a national political party, including its former leader, for allegedly running a sex trafficking operation with party resources; one additional suspect apprehended in the prior reporting period remained in custody and two other suspects were not apprehended. The government did not provide updates in the case of the former governor of Puebla, arrested in February 2021 for ordering the 2005 torture and illegal arrest of a journalist who exposed the official’s alleged involvement in a child sex trafficking ring. The government did not convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes.

The government maintained protection efforts, identifying more victims; however, it did not provide adequate services to victims. The government reported identifying 744 victims in 2021, compared with 673 victims in 2020, and 658 victims in 2019. The government provided only partial disaggregated data on the identified victims: in the first eight months of 2021, identified victims included 392 individuals subjected to sex trafficking, 56 subjected to forced labor, and 66 not specified and at least 15 victims were from other countries. An NGO that operated a national hotline dedicated to human trafficking reports received 1,864 trafficking-related calls—originating from throughout the country—and identified more than 196 victims from these calls; 43 investigations resulted from calls to the hotline. In 2021, Mexican consular officials identified and assisted 1,352 Mexican nationals who were in vulnerable situations or victims of crimes including human trafficking in other countries; 86 were victims of forced labor. In comparison, authorities abroad identified and assisted 313 Mexican victims of human trafficking in the first six months of 2020.

Immigration officials implemented a formal screening, identification, and care protocol to identify and refer potential trafficking victims during initial immigration verification, and immigration officials identified 15 trafficking victims during the year. In the previous reporting period, authorities agreed to modify this protocol to require screening among migrants in detention centers and requested assistance from an international organization in drafting updated guidance; however, authorities did not complete these revisions during the year. Consular officials followed a protocol for identifying and providing assistance to Mexican victims abroad, and some other agencies followed informal victim referral procedures. Labor inspectors had a protocol for identifying suspected forced labor victims during routine inspections of formally-registered businesses and farms, but local observers reported a lack of coordination with other secretariats to facilitate criminal investigations and victim assistance. Across the government, victim referral from first responders was largely ad hoc and procedures varied from state to state, with most shelters relying on prosecutors to identify and refer victims. Most government officials lacked SOPs to proactively identify potential victims of trafficking within vulnerable groups and systematically refer them to service providers. NGOs reported authorities at all levels of government lacked sufficient understanding of trafficking laws and failed to effectively identify and refer potential victims. In Puebla, a state the government identified as among those with the highest prevalence of trafficking, state authorities referred only three victims to the state’s only trafficking victim shelter in 2021. The government provided training on identifying and assisting trafficking victims to officials from several agencies including 800 staff from state attorneys general offices; 487 Department for Family Development (DIF) officers; 2,100 immigration officials; and 1,465 additional government officials.

Federal and state agencies generally offered victims emergency assistance such as medical care, food, and housing in temporary or transitional homes, and other services such as psychological care, legal assistance, and access to education or employment opportunities, often in partnership with NGOs. However, victim services varied throughout the country; were unavailable in some regions; and were particularly inadequate for male victims, forced labor victims, and victims in rural areas. NGOs reported the government provided insufficient funding for critical victim services and victims in most states did not receive sufficient government assistance. Medical and psychological support often did not extend beyond cursory evaluations; shelters at both the state and local levels typically housed victims only for the duration of a criminal trial; and long‑term reintegration services were very limited, leaving victims highly vulnerable to re‑exploitation.

The government did not provide complete data for victims receiving services. FEVIMTRA continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City that could accommodate 50 female victims and their children for up to three months while victims participated in legal processes; the shelter served 79 trafficking victims during the year. NGOs expressed concerns the high security measures, including victims’ inability to leave the shelter unaccompanied, may have re‑traumatized some victims. The states of Mexico, Chiapas, and Mexico City continued operating six government-funded trafficking shelters. In total, seven states had specialized government or NGO shelters for trafficking victims, and four states had agreements in place that allowed them to refer trafficking victims to shelters in another state. The government and NGOs operated additional shelters that served other vulnerable populations and could accept trafficking victims but did not provide specialized services. There were no government or NGO trafficking shelters available for male victims older than 13, and 12 states lacked any shelters that accepted trafficking victims. NGOs operated the majority of shelters that served trafficking victims. Most shelters offered medical, psychological, and legal assistance for victims, but the level of care and quality of services varied widely. Government officials provided services such as security or transportation to some NGO shelters. Government centers for crime victims provided some trafficking victims with emergency services, as did state-level prosecutorial, social service, and human rights offices. Many NGOs continued to alter or limit their operations in response to pandemic-related funding cuts from donors or necessary isolation measures. Shelters reported assisting fewer victims due to limited staffing and to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The National Institute of Social Development provides funding to women’s shelters, including shelters that accept victims of trafficking; in 2021, three NGOs operating trafficking shelters submitted requests for funding and received approximately 11 million pesos ($535,780) through this program.

The government reported providing temporary immigration relief through humanitarian visas to 13 trafficking victims in 2021. Humanitarian visas enabled foreign trafficking victims to legally remain and work in the country up to one year, and could be extended; this benefit was not dependent on a victim’s willingness to participate in a criminal trial. Government officials and NGOs acknowledged barriers to victims receiving humanitarian visas, including authorities’ failure to identify eligible foreign trafficking victims, insufficient efforts to make victims aware of the process for obtaining such relief, and the lengthy wait times for processing requests. FEVIMTRA coordinated with local embassies to provide legal, administrative, and consular assistance to victims from Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela and repatriated six victims to their home countries.

The law provided victims with protection from punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. However, the government lacked formal procedures to identify victims among vulnerable groups, including children apprehended for alleged gang-related criminal activity and migrants in detention facilities. NGOs reported authorities sometimes unlawfully detained victims on trafficking charges and some officials utilized shelters as detention facilities for victims until their cases were completed. Trafficking victims among migrants and asylum-seekers were often fearful of reporting abuses due to a mistrust of authorities and fears of punishment or other repercussions. Authorities initially charged a child sex trafficking victim in Queretaro with sex trafficking crimes, but later withdrew the charges and filed a new case naming her as a victim; in October 2021, courts convicted the sex trafficker who exploited her and several other victims. The government did not report whether it complied with a CNDH recommendation, issued in January 2021, to provide compensation to a sex trafficking victim whose human rights authorities violated by detaining her in a migrant detention center in 2018.

The anti-trafficking law stipulated authorities must apply the principle of “maximum protection” to victims and witnesses, including protecting individuals’ identities and providing name and residence changes to victims affected by organized crime. Nonetheless, identifying information sometimes became publicly available in high-profile cases and many victims feared identifying themselves or testifying against traffickers in court under the accusatorial system. Courts permitted victims to provide testimony via closed circuit television. NGOs reported officials often re-traumatized victims through a lack of sensitivity, victim shaming, and the lack of adequate protection for victims during criminal proceedings. Experts expressed concern prosecutors coerced some victims to testify during judicial proceedings. Authorities’ failure to employ victim-centered procedures, combined with an overall lack of specialized services and security, disincentivized victims from filing complaints or participating in investigations and prosecutions. Women, Indigenous persons, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrants experienced discrimination within the judicial system that limited their access to justice.

The Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) had a unit responsible for supporting access to justice and compensation for victims of federal crimes, but the government did not provide it with sufficient funding and trained personnel, limiting its ability to provide this support to trafficking victims. The national-anti trafficking law required judges in criminal cases at both the state and federal levels to order traffickers to pay restitution to victims. One victim received 57,500 Mexican pesos (USD 2,800) in restitution. However, the majority of victims who were awarded restitution did not receive these funds, and the government did not create a legally-required fund to cover restitution payments perpetrators could not pay. The government anti-trafficking commission continued funding an international organization to develop a national information system to track the number of victims identified, referred, and assisted across the country, but the pandemic delayed the system’s implementation.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The anti-trafficking commission, led by SEGOB, coordinated efforts among government agencies and civil society organizations. Local experts reported the commission was effective in promoting participation of stakeholders from academia, NGOs, and international organizations, and it encouraged transparency at its regular meetings and in its five permanent working groups. The government lacked a national anti-trafficking action plan (NAP) for a third year, following the previous plan’s expiration in 2018. The anti-trafficking commission drafted a new NAP and submitted it to the Secretariat of Finance for approval. In December 2021, the government approved the Comprehensive Program to Prevent, Address, Punish and Eradicate Violence against Women 2021-2024; the program includes activities to combat trafficking crimes against women, including harmonizing state and municipal regulations to strengthen coordination between police and commercial establishments and implementing campaigns to identify and prevent risk factors in areas with high trafficking prevalence.

The government conducted a variety of anti-trafficking training and awareness programs for government officials and members of the public. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) held 63 virtual and in-person training events for 11,800 government officials across sectors including health and child services, tourism, state and municipal government, state human rights commissions, state police, and other first responders. The Secretariat of Welfare conducted a series of in-person and online events to raise awareness of trafficking, reaching one million people across the country. Several government entities conducted campaigns on social media to educate members of the public on trafficking and encourage victims and witnesses to report possible cases to authorities. Nonetheless, awareness and understanding of trafficking, particularly forced labor, remained low among the public. Experts noted prevention campaigns insufficiently reached high-risk groups such as children, rural and Indigenous communities, and non-Spanish speakers.

The government did not allocate sufficient resources or personnel to the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare to effectively enforce labor laws, although it significantly increased the budget for labor law enforcement. Furthermore, labor inspectors had a limited mandate for conducting oversight of working conditions in informal businesses and farms—which employed more than half of Mexican workers—and a 24-hour advance notice requirement for routine inspections hampered their effectiveness when they did occur. Authorities conducted very few inspections in major farming states where abuses allegedly were rife, investigated few complaints, and lacked effective coordination mechanisms to provide identified victims with appropriate services and access to criminal justice. The labor law lacked provisions criminalizing fraudulent recruitment and contract practices that made many workers vulnerable to trafficking. The law prohibited recruiters and labor agents from charging fees to workers and employers from passing agency fees to workers in the form of wage deductions; however, the law did not establish penalties for these practices and recruiters and employers continued to commit them with impunity. The law required employers to pay wages weekly, but the government did not effectively enforce this provision against employers who withheld wages to compel workers to meet certain quotas or continue working for a certain length of time. Civil contract law covered some fraudulent recruitment practices, but there was no evidence the government used these or other statues to hold recruiters or employers accountable.

A reform to Mexico’s Migration and Refugee Law came into effect in January 2021, requiring authorities to issue temporary documents to undocumented migrant children and their adult caregivers, granting legal presence in Mexico while the government conducted a best interest determination for the child. Local observers expressed concerns that the law did not protect unaccompanied children from exploitation, as it did not require adults to prove their relationship to the child. The government did not enact a prohibition against the importation of goods produced by forced labor, as required by a trade agreement ratified by the Mexican legislature. The Secretariat of Tourism collaborated with an NGO to hold 19 virtual and in-person trainings on a public-private code of conduct on the protection of children in the tourism sector, reaching more than 10,000 employees of 148 hotels nationwide. NGOs reported the government’s lack of follow-up and enforcement efforts limited the effectiveness of the code of conduct. The government participated in a program with authorities in the United States to limit the entry into Mexico of sex offenders convicted in the United States, but it did not report whether it denied entry to any sex offenders during the year. The government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected child sex tourists. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by prosecuting and convicting individuals who purchased commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims.

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 unaccompanied children, Indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, asylum seekers and migrants, IDPs, LGBTQI+ individuals, informal sector workers, and children in gang-controlled territories. Traffickers recruit and exploit Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men, in sex trafficking in Mexico and the United States through false promises of employment, deceptive romantic relationships, or extortion. The majority of trafficking cases occur among family, intimate partners, acquaintances on social media, or through employment-related traps. The online sexual exploitation of children reportedly increased during the year. Transgender persons are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, particularly social media, to target and recruit potential victims. Traffickers exploit Mexican adults 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 commonly exploit day laborers and their children in forced labor in Mexico’s agricultural sector, with most victims coming from economically vulnerable and Indigenous populations. Individuals migrate from the poorest states to the agricultural regions to harvest vegetables, coffee, sugar, and tobacco; many receive little or no pay or time off; endure inhumane housing conditions without access to adequate food, clean water, or medical care; and are denied education for children. Some employers withhold weekly wages to compel agricultural workers to meet certain harvest quotas or continue working until the end of the harvest. Recruiters frequently employ deceptive recruitment practices and charge unlawful fees to place agricultural workers in Mexico and the United States; many workers are promised decent wages and a good standard of living, then subsequently compelled into forced labor through debt bondage, threats of violence, and non-payment of wages. NGOs estimated traffickers increasingly exploited individuals in forced labor in Mexico. 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—with Venezuelan victims increasing in recent years; traffickers exploited some of these victims along Mexico’s southern border. NGOs and the media report victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Among the Cuban medical professionals the government contracted to assist during the pandemic, some may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Thousands of Ukrainian refugees, predominantly women and children who are fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine, have arrived in northern Mexican border cities seeking sanctuary in the United States and are vulnerable to trafficking.

Organized criminal groups profit from sex trafficking and force Mexican and foreign adults and children to engage in illicit activities, including as assassins, lookouts, and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs. Experts expressed particular concern over the forced recruitment of Indigenous children by organized criminal groups, who use torture and credible threats of murder to exploit these children in forced criminality. Criminal groups exploit thousands of children in Mexico to serve as lookouts, carry out attacks on authorities and rival groups, or work in poppy fields. Observers also expressed concern over recruitment of recently deported Mexican nationals and foreign migrants by organized criminal groups for the purpose of forced criminality. Migrants and asylum seekers in or transiting Mexico are vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, including by organized criminal groups; this risk is particularly high for migrants who rely on smugglers. Observers, including Mexican legislators, noted links between violence against women and girls and between women’s disappearances, murders, and trafficking by organized criminal groups. 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. Trafficking-related corruption remains a concern. Some government officials collude with traffickers or participate in trafficking crimes. Corrupt officials reportedly participate in sex trafficking, including running sex trafficking operations. Some immigration officials allegedly accept payment from traffickers to facilitate the irregular entry of foreign trafficking victims into Mexico.

NGOs reported child sex tourism remains a problem and continues to expand, especially in tourist areas and in northern border cities. Parents are sometimes complicit in exploiting their children in child sex tourism, and children experiencing homelessness are believed to be at high risk. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe; Mexican men also purchase sex from child trafficking victims. Authorities reported trafficking networks increasingly used cryptocurrencies to launder proceeds from their crimes. Economic hardship resulting from the pandemic led some workers to accept loans from their employers that left them highly vulnerable to debt bondage.

U.S. Department of State

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