Migrants in Mexico at Risk of Mass Kidnapping, Torture, Abuse

July 15, 2011

“To put this in perspective, more people are dying in Mexico than Afghanistan.” –General Barry McCaffrey

Pictures of migrants whose relatives have no news of since they left for the US © Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

Despite a violent “war on drugs” that started five years ago, Mexicans are experiencing an increase in organized crime and drug-related violence along the Mexican border. Other criminals are not the only, perhaps even primary, target of violence.

As it has become more difficult to conduct drug trafficking due to efforts from the Mexican government, organized crime is targeting migrants from Southern Mexico and Central Americans who are attempting to reach the United States.

Already poor, migrants are kidnapped, some are tortured and many are held hostage until their families in the United States provides tens of thousands of dollars, raised in communities and second mortgages on their homes. If a migrant does not have family in the U.S. who can pay for her/his release, the migrant may well be tortured and killed as an example to other kidnapped migrants and their families on the phone.

After two years of extensive research, Amnesty International found that six in ten female migrants traveling through Mexico are likely to be raped on the journey. Kidnapping is not targeted only at those moving north, however, Mexican immigrants being deported at the southern border are also expressing fear of a serious threat to their human rights.

On July 8, 2011, at least forty-one people were killed in a twenty-four hour period in three concurrent attacks. In Monterrey, in northeast Mexico, twenty people were massacred in a popular nightclub. Hours later, eleven people were found shot to death outside of Mexico City. The next morning, ten decapitated bodies were found in the truck of a car in Torreon, a city in the center of the country.

In the last five years, 40,000 people have been killed in the “war on drugs” in Mexico. The violence, however, is deeply concentrated in a few different cities. As of 2010, 20 percent of murders occurred in Ciudad Juarez, while another 16 percent occurred in Culiacan, Tijuana and Chihuahua, all areas near the southern border of the U.S. While spillover violence into the U.S. does not seem to be occurring, in these areas, the government does not seem able to protect the human rights of all residents to life and liberty.

Even though Chihuahua was the deadliest city in Mexico in 2009, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to deport Mexican nationals to this city. The State Department has also issued a travel advisory against non-essential travel to Chihuahua, and to Coahuila and Tamaulipas, two other Mexican states where ICE continues deportations at a high rate.

These deportation policies demonstrate callous disregard for the lives of migrants who are easy targets for organized crime and may be forcibly conscripted into drug trafficking or held for ransom. In 2010, seventy-two migrants’ bodies were found shot to death along the Mexican side of the Texas border.

Customary international law does not permit refoulement (returning someone to a place where her life or freedom are at serious risk), and the United States has an obligation to ensure that it is not repatriating immigrants to places where violence is likely.

By warning U.S. citizens not to travel to Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and other northern states in Mexico, the U.S. is acknowledging the serious risks of harm in these areas. In contravention of its responsibilities, however, ICE does not take adequate steps to ensure the well-being of immigrants after their repatriation to Mexico.

In a response to an inquiry by the organization No More Deaths, an ICE spokesperson responded,

“While ICE recognizes the current situation relating to violence in Mexico, the agency is not in the practice of allowing detainees to request repatriation to specific locations in Mexico. ICE makes every effort to work closely with the Government of Mexico to ensure the safe and orderly repatriation of all detainees.”

The hollowness of this promise is evident in the deaths that occurred during the period that twenty-one Mexican men begged to be deported anywhere but the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Coahuila.

This week’s shocking violence reminds all of us of the incredible risks and sacrifices that migrants take on a daily basis to raise their families out of poverty. While the rebuttal may be that they should just wait their turn for a visa, most poor people around the world have no access to the U.S. visa program, and the demand for jobs in the agricultural, domestic, and industry far outstrips the meager amount of visas available.

For most there is no choice but to make the harrowing journey without the explicit permission of the U.S. government, but at the same time its implicit consent to migrants taking up jobs that have an unfulfilled labor demand. U.S. immigration law fails entirely to address the need for workers in certain fields and as a result migrants are forced to make dangerous journeys and enter the U.S. easily exploited by some malevolent employers to work in dangerous and dirty conditions.

If found deportable, the least the U.S. government could do is ensure that they are not returned to kidnapping and torture by organized crime who sit waiting for deportees at the Mexican border.

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