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

Estado de Mexico

From Tlaxcala, the train travels to Tultitlán, in the state of Mexico. The train station there is located in Lechería. At Lechería train station, migrants can board a train that will take them close to the border with Laredo, Texas. The station has become a focal point for Central American migrants on their journey north, with hundreds of migrants arriving daily. The migrant corridor from Lechería to Atitalaquia in the state of Hidalgo, is known as the “devil’s passage.”

The high concentration of migrants near Lechería’s train tracks has stirred controversy among Mexican locals. Many locals blame migrants for what they perceive to be an increase in the municipality’s crime and poverty rates. Hostility towards migrants is more noticeable in neighborhoods surrounding the train station, increasing the vulnerability of migrants arriving in the city. Migrant advocates estimate that only one out of ten migrants that reach Lechería are female. The number of unaccompanied minors is even smaller. Due to the risks posed by illegally boarding freight trains, female migrants prefer to use alternative methods of transportation. When they can afford it, they usually travel by bus. Some women decide to stay and work in cities for longer periods in order to save money for the journey north.

The hostile environment towards migrants in Lechería makes the work of migrant advocates in the city more difficult. In 2009, the Catholic Church opened a migrant shelter near the train station. As the shelter only provided aid and food to migrants, impoverished locals grew resentful. In July 2012, after facing significant opposition and pressure from locals, the Church closed down the shelter.

A new shelter was eventually established in Huehuetoca, a municipality located 30 km north of Lechería. However, the freight train does not come to a full stop at Huehuetoca. Thus, boarding and disembarking the train in Huehuetoca is a significantly more dangerous endeavor than it is in Lechería. Migrants in Huehuetoca also face hostilities and distrust from locals. On July 21, 2012, the shelter was shot at least five times. A group that identifies itself as the Maras has made numerous threats to the shelter staff and in one occasion criminals broke into the shelter, leading to its temporary closure. In January 2013, the facility reopened. Other attacks followed later in that year.

Currently, violence levels in the state of Mexico are high. In 2014, severe violence and recurring night shootings occurred in Lechería and its surrounding areas. Organized crime groups are present along the train tracks and in the areas where migrants wait for the train. Experts have identified the Lechería-Bojay corridor as a “terror territory reproducing a model in Mexico filled with murder, disappearances and kidnappings.”

In the state of Mexico, criminal organizations, common criminals, and state agents target and abuse migrants. According to experts, the cartels “Caballeros Templarios” (Knights Templar), the “Zetas,” “La Familia Michoacana”, and “Jalisco Nueva Generación” are present in Huehuetoca. The Maras also operate in the state extorting migrants. The Maras are connected with Mexican criminal groups. According to experts, current Mexico’s severe policies to curb migration have benefited organized crime. Tougher policies, such as “Plan Frontera Sur,” have made it harder for migrants to transit Mexico, increasing migrants’ demand for clandestine migration routes.

In our stay in Mexico, we came in contact with a number of cases of human trafficking victims. The abuses they suffered ranged from sexual and labor exploitation, to compelled labor for criminal activities. In two testimonies, the victims described being targeted by human trafficking rings that were not directly operated by TCOs. Another victim was a former member of the Guatemalan military’ special forces, known as the Kaibiles. He had been recruited by a Mexican TCO to provide its members with military training. One migrant, who claimed to have used Mexico’s migration routes eleven times in hopes to reach the United States, described being victim of labor exploitation at an Oaxaca hotel.

Human trafficking and anti-human trafficking efforts in the state of Mexico continue to be a problematic issue. Experts often complain that the government does not provide adequate anti-human trafficking training to officials and law enforcement agents in charge of persecuting and prosecuting trafficking. Most of the experts blame the ambiguous text of the 2012 General Law to Prevent, Sanction, and Eradicate the Crimes in Matters of Human Trafficking and to Protect and Assist the Victims as one of the main reasons why anti-trafficking efforts in Mexico have not been effective. Experts complain that only a small fraction of crimes involving human trafficking is ever properly reported. When asked about the involvement of TCOs in human trafficking, most of the experts agreed that TCOs are involved, but that they do not play a prominent role. Human trafficking rings in Mexico are linked to families and local groups with decades-long involvement with crime.