The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Forced Criminal Activities along Mexico's Eastern Migration Routes and Central America Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies


Guatemala is the last country where Central American migrants can freely transit without needing an immigration permit. After crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border, migrants start avoiding authorities. Guatemala is a country of origin, transit and destination of migrants as well as of labor and sex trafficking victims. In recent years, severe economic problems, violence, weak state institutions, and successive natural disasters have led to unprecedented emigration.

Guatemala also has a high influx of migrants. Aside from Guatemalan nationals deported back to the country, migrants from other Central America countries are often deported back to Guatemala. The migrant community in the country is comprised of foreigners trying to reach the United States for the first time as well as repatriated migrants attempting the journey again. Alongside repatriated Guatemalans, Guatemala also receives many deported Salvadoran and Honduran migrants.

Migration experts deem the Guatemala-Mexico border to be highly porous. Migrants look for isolated blind spots, often jungles, along the border to enter Mexico undetected. Experts identified two spots as the most highly transited points of entrance. The first crossing point is the area of El Ceibo, neighboring the Mexican state of Tabasco. The second crossing point is the Suchiate River by the city of Tecun Uman, neighboring the state of Oaxaca.

According to migration experts, the majority of migrants utilize migrant smugglers known as coyotes. Recently, the migrant smuggling networks have expanded, turning coyotes from the main actors in charge of smuggling migrants to members of a larger criminal chain. This chain has several actors, including coyotes, human traffickers, and drug traffickers.

Coyote services in Guatemala are extremely popular. Experts said some coyotes are reliable. Others, however, are involved in human trafficking. Some coyotes are allegedly involved with transporting Guatemalan children to Mexican border towns in Chiapas. There, criminals push the children into begging rings, street vending, and forced labor in the municipal dump.

Interviews revealed that there is no relationship between Guatemalan coyotes and Mexican origin TCOs. Nevertheless, Mexican coyotes are believed to be working with TCOs. Their interactions range from coyotes paying TCOs a fee to pass through their territories to supplying migrants to criminal entities. Most experts conferred that, along the migration routes in Mexico, TCOs use migrants as scapegoats, forcing them to carry backpacks with drugs in order to turn authorities’ attention away from more serious criminal activities such as the transportation of heavy drug loads. Minors are allegedly the main victims of this form of compelled labor.

Experts said there is no relationship between Guatemalan gangs and Mexican TCOs. No evidence was found of Maras’s involvement in the migration business. Gang activities include extortion and drug dealing, but not migrant smuggling. Experts noted that gangs force adolescents to join their ranks. Experts reported forced recruitment as one of the main factors leading young Guatemalans to migrate.