Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

MEXICO: Tier 2

Mexico is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants, and LGBTI individuals. Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men and transgender individuals, are exploited in sex trafficking in Mexico and the United States. Mexican men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing, food processing, construction, forced begging, the informal economy, and street vending in Mexico and the United States. They are typically lured by fraudulent labor recruiters, deceptive offers of romantic relationships, or extortion, including through the retention of identity documents, threats to notify immigration officials of victims’ immigration status, or threats to harm family members. NGOs report transgender Mexicans in prostitution are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Press reports state some Mexican citizens have wages systematically withheld, are held in debt bondage in agriculture, and are indebted to recruiters or to company stores. Residents at some substance addiction rehabilitation centers and women’s shelters have been subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The vast majority of foreign victims of forced labor and sex trafficking in Mexico are from Central and South America. Victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Child sex tourism remains a problem, especially in tourist areas and in northern border cities. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, though Mexican citizens are among those exploiting child sex trafficking victims. 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. Trafficking-related corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, is a significant concern. Some officials extort bribes and sexual services from adults in prostitution and child sex trafficking victims; extort irregular migrants, including trafficking victims; falsify victims’ documents; threaten victims with prosecution to compel them to file official complaints against their traffickers; accept bribes from traffickers; facilitate movement of victims across borders; operate or patronize brothels where victims are exploited; or fail to respond to trafficking crimes, including in commercial sex locations.

The Government of Mexico does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government reported convicting 86 traffickers, including some for forced labor. Data on victim identification and law enforcement efforts were sometimes unreliable, and it was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking as defined by international law; however, data collection improved in 2015. Official complicity continued to be a serious and largely unaddressed problem. The government provided funding for services for crime victims, including trafficking victims, and opened the country’s first public-private shelter funded by a state government and private entities. Shelters remained inadequate compared to the scale of the problem, and victim services were virtually nonexistent in much of the country, leaving many reported victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. Federal and state authorities engaged in a range of anti-trafficking prevention efforts, including new initiatives to prevent forced labor.


Increase government funding for the provision of specialized victim services and shelters; strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict traffickers, especially for forced labor crimes; increase efforts to hold public officials complicit in trafficking accountable through prosecutions and convictions; develop a standardized process for use by all officials to identify and refer victims for protection and assistance, and train officials on the process; amend anti-trafficking laws at the federal and state levels to mirror the international anti-trafficking law; increase the capacity of regional and state coalitions and specialized units to respond more effectively to trafficking cases, through increased funding and staff training; verify, through increased training and monitoring, that victims are not coerced into testifying against traffickers or treated as traffickers; continue to strengthen data collection efforts; provide effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against traffickers; and continue to improve coordination mechanisms among federal, state, and local authorities.


The government continued uneven law enforcement efforts. While authorities reported an increase in federal and state trafficking convictions, it was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking as defined by international law. Law enforcement efforts were undermined by significant official complicity in trafficking crimes, mainly by local police and other local authorities. The general anti-trafficking law of 2012 prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five to 30 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, in contrast to the international definition, the law establishes the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime and defines illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation as a form of human trafficking. Cases involving individuals who may have been forced by criminal groups to engage in illicit activities were not handled as potential trafficking cases, despite indicators of force or coercion. Federal officials have jurisdiction over all international trafficking cases and all cases that take place on federally administered territory involving organized crime or involving allegations against government officials. States investigate other internal trafficking cases. Fourteen states, out of 31, have aligned their trafficking laws with the federal law, which may address inconsistencies among those states’ laws and improve interstate investigations and prosecutions. During the reporting period, the legislature of Chihuahua approved a victim protection law, which provides for legal, medical, and psychological services to victims of crimes and human rights violations, including trafficking. The legislature of Baja California introduced a bill, intended to identify victims, to require law enforcement to inspect suspicious commercial establishments.

Data based on the broad definition of trafficking in the 2012 law indicated authorities initiated 250 federal and 415 state investigations and detained 674 individuals, compared with 253 federal and 196 state investigations for trafficking in 2014. Notable cases included the arrest of five alleged traffickers for the forced labor of a woman in a dry cleaning business; the arrest of five alleged traffickers from an agricultural company for forced labor of 228 adults and 78 children; the arrest of several managers of a coffee plantation involved in the forced labor of indigenous Guatemalan children; and multiple sex trafficking crimes allegedly committed by family members and criminal organizations. Authorities reported prosecuting 578 individuals in 2015—414 men and 157 women. Mexican authorities reported convicting 86 traffickers involved in 36 cases in 2015. The government did not report the number of trafficking prosecutions or convictions in 2014. According to the press, sentences ranged from 15 years’ to 58 years’ imprisonment. However, it was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking crimes as defined by international law, and officials did not report the lengths of sentences. Approximately two percent of trafficking cases resulted in conviction, a rate consistent with conviction rates for other crimes in Mexico. NGOs reported police conducted anti-trafficking raids for the purpose of detaining people in prostitution and irregular migrants rather than identifying victims of sex trafficking or forced labor. Some public officials conflated trafficking with migrant smuggling and prostitution. Investigations and prosecutions were sometimes delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction or coordinated with officials in other parts of the country, to the detriment of both the criminal case and the victims. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor, but many states lacked funding to employ one. Some officials’ lack of understanding of trafficking led to their trial of cases as more minor offenses or to the acquittal of traffickers. Authorities maintained strong law enforcement cooperation with U.S. officials, partnering on six joint law enforcement operations, one of which resulted in the identification of nearly 60 victims and the arrest of 18 alleged traffickers. Mexican authorities also enhanced law enforcement cooperation with the United States and continued to exchange information on human trafficking and migrant smuggling investigations through an ongoing working group. Some federal government agencies hosted anti-trafficking training with foreign donor support and funding; foreign governments and civil society provided the majority of specialized training.

Despite persistent reports of extensive official complicity, authorities did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking in 2015; the government has not convicted a complicit official since 2010. Authorities apprehended a municipal employee wanted for trafficking in Oaxaca in 2014, but did not report progress on such cases or new investigations of complicit officials in 2015. The government did not report the status of the 2013 investigation of two Tijuana police officers for exploiting a sex trafficking victim or the status of the 2012 investigation of a Chihuahua state employee charged with forced labor.


The government continued to provide limited specialized services for identified trafficking victims. The government reported identifying 1,814 trafficking victims in 2015—784 for commercial sex, 470 for forced labor, 382 for forced begging, and 17 for forced criminality, and 161 were unspecified—compared with 1,842 trafficking victims in 2014. While immigration agents used a lengthy human rights questionnaire to identify potential trafficking victims, and some government institutions had informal victim referral procedures, most officials lacked clear guidelines for identifying and referring victims to services. NGOs questioned the government’s ability to accurately identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and persons in prostitution. Anti-trafficking experts and people in prostitution reported officials often did not differentiate between sex trafficking victims and women in prostitution—due in part to the overly broad anti-trafficking law—making victim identification statistics unreliable. The Executive Commission for the Attention to Victims (CEAV) reported it provided officials a protocol outlining provision of assistance to victims; however, NGOs reported the protocol was ineffective.

In 2015, the CEAV spent 47 million pesos (almost $2.7 million) for assistance to crime victims, including trafficking victims. Federal and state entities offer victims emergency services, such as medical care, food, and temporary lodging, which some victims received during the year. Longer term victim services vary in scope and quality overall, but may include medical, psychological, and legal services. It was unclear how many identified victims received particular services such as shelter. Services in most parts of the country remained inadequate compared to the significant number of trafficking victims identified by NGOs and officials. A federal victim assistance protocol was drafted in 2014 but remained pending; some states also drafted victim care protocols. Government-funded services for male and forced labor victims were particularly weak. Shelters for vulnerable children younger than age 13 and for female victims of violence did not report how many trafficking victims they assisted in 2015. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City for up to 50 female victims of violence, including trafficking victims, who were participating in the legal process against their exploiters. The shelter housed an unspecified number of trafficking victims for up to three months. Women were allowed to have their children with them at the shelter. Women were not allowed to leave the shelter alone, reportedly due to safety concerns; NGOs expressed concern that this arrangement re-traumatized some victims. FEVIMTRA received 93,376,000 pesos ($5,492,000) in 2015, compared with 10 million pesos ($680,000) in 2014, to provide assistance to female victims of extreme violence, including trafficking. The State of Puebla opened and operated the country’s first public-private shelter, funded by the state government and private entities. NGOs, many receiving foreign donor or private funding, provided the majority of specialized shelters and assistance. Some shelters relied on the prosecutor’s office to identify victims and received funding based on the number of victims housed, which observers suggested creates incentive to hold victims pending the conclusion of a case and may compromise the shelter’s independence and sustainability of operations. Coordination between federal, state, and local officials on victim services and case management was weak. The Mexican consular network in the United States provided support to 31 labor trafficking victims and an unknown number of sex trafficking victims in 2014.

Many victims were afraid to identify themselves as trafficking victims, and few filed complaints or assisted in investigations and prosecutions due to their fear of retribution from traffickers, the lack of specialized services, or distrust of authorities. Mexican law has provisions to protect victims from punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, but NGOs reported that in practice some officials unlawfully detained or punished victims. 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. Women in prostitution in Mexico City alleged officials used violence during anti-trafficking operations, and also forced them to sign declarations accusing detained individuals of trafficking, which raised serious concerns about law enforcement tactics to secure witnesses. NGOs also reported officials often re-victimized trafficking victims due to lack of sensitivity. Foreign trafficking victims could receive refugee status independent of any decision to testify against suspected traffickers, but civil society reported this legal alternative to deportation was often not provided in practice. Many foreign trafficking victims returned to their countries of origin after giving testimony, in some cases due to a lack of adequate shelter or information about their rights. INM reported providing food and assistance to 29 foreign trafficking victims in 2014 and issued authorization to 21 victims to remain in the country on a humanitarian basis—which could be renewable on a yearly basis depending on the victims’ specific circumstances—compared with 47 victims assisted in 2013. In some cases, authorities shared victims’ names and case details with the press. The national anti-trafficking law provides for restitution to be paid from a victims’ fund, but it was unclear if the courts awarded any trafficking victims restitution. However, a court awarded reparations of 800,000 pesos ($45,600) to a victim in a human rights case in January 2016, which may help to set a precedent for such remedies in future human rights and trafficking cases.


Federal and state authorities engaged in a range of anti-trafficking prevention efforts. The interagency anti-trafficking commission met twice a year to coordinate federal government efforts and released a report on 2014 national anti-trafficking efforts. The government published a national action plan for 2014-2018, but did not dedicate additional funds to implement the plan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Mexico published a report—which was funded by the government—analyzing the impact of Mexico’s anti-trafficking efforts, and made recommendations for improving efforts, including strengthening the national anti-trafficking law, invigorating the interagency anti-trafficking commission, providing comprehensive assistance to victims, and strengthening civil society participation in anti-trafficking efforts, among other recommendations.

Twenty-four out of 31 states had state-level anti-trafficking committees, of which 12 were launched or reconfigured in 2014, and which varied in effectiveness. Federal and state governments engaged in a variety of awareness-raising activities, such as the distribution of educational materials—including in indigenous languages and sign language. They also publicized phone numbers to report trafficking crimes anonymously, reaching almost 350,000 people. Experts reported uneven interagency coordination at the federal and state levels. The National Human Rights Commission conducted extensive anti-trafficking training and awareness sessions for a range of audiences. The federal district government provided funding to an anti-trafficking hotline for the capital that provided referrals to appropriate Mexican agencies for victim assistance. Authorities eliminated fees for worker and visitor permits allowing Guatemalan and Belizean citizens to work along the southern border and established a center in Guatemala to register people for visitor permits. Authorities did not report efforts to regulate or hold fraudulent labor recruiters responsible. They did, however, report other efforts to prevent forced labor, including training offered to Mexican migrant workers employed by a potentially fraudulent recruiter, outreach to foreign migrant workers to inform them of their rights and responsibilities, and inspections of worksites to detect irregular activity, including underage workers who may be vulnerable to trafficking. Officials continued efforts to prevent child sex tourism through training sessions, and distributed awareness materials to reduce the demand for sexual exploitation of children in tourism destinations. While the government investigated some child sex tourism cases, it did not report prosecuting or convicting any child sex tourists; some NGOs alleged some corrupt local officials allowed child sex tourism to occur. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government reported that it provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.