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


Tapachula, Chiapas, and Tenosique, Tabasco are the first cities in Mexico where migrants stop. Tapachula is located near Mexico’s southwestern border with Guatemala. Tenosique is located about 38 miles northwest from the Guatemalan border. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch destroyed train tracks in Tenosique, severely affecting the transit of migrant who relied on trains to move in Mexico. In 2005, Tapachula’s train station was closed. In 2008, Mexico and Guatemala inaugurated a highway connecting Guatemala to Tabasco. Migrants transiting through Tenosique follow the train tracks to Palenque, Chiapas; Coatzacoalcos and Medias Aguas, Veracruz. Tenosique is also an area of interest in regards to organized crime. The Zetas once operated there with significant control over the drug, smuggling, and migrant routes.

Unlike Tapachula, Tenosique is not a destination city. The local residents are also known to be unwelcoming to migrants. Hostility towards migrants increased noticeably after the establishment of the migrant shelter in the city.  The migrant routes near Tabasco have been heavily used by common criminals who rob, assault, rape, and murder migrants. Due to a lack of security along Mexico’s southern border, migrants are an easy target to abuse by Central American and Mexican gangs, kidnappers, and corrupt government officials.

Migrants are not likely to report abuse to law enforcement agents. Since Mexico implemented the Frontera Sur Plan, authorities have increased their efforts to detect and deport undocumented migrants. Government officials have focused on stopping migrants from boarding trains. Hondurans migrants were reported as more likely to board trains than other migrants.

A migration analyst in Tenosique said that migration patterns in the city have changed. In the past, most Guatemalans transiting through Tenosique reported that their goal was to reach the United States. Currently, 90% of Guatemalans reported Campeche or Quintana Roo as their destination. They usually seek employment in the construction and the service industry. Many Guatemalans migrate to Cancun, Chetumal, and Playa del Carmen. Reports of possible trafficking of Guatemalan minors for commercial sex industry in Cancun, Quintana Roo were also discussed. Honduran migrants tend to reside in migrant shelters for longer periods than other migrants.  They hope to obtain asylum in Mexico.

Tenosique was locally known as the first leg of the migrant route to be under the control of the Zetas. From 2009 to 2012, several kidnappings and violent crimes took place in the city. The Zetas controlled the migrant routes in order safeguard their control over the drug routes in the region. In 2009, they started demanding fees, extorting, and kidnapping migrants to increase their revenue. Government officials and analysts claimed that the Zetas still operate in the city, but not at the level that they did in 2009-2012. Although experts did not reach a consensus on whether the Zetas still operate in Tenosique, it is evident that other criminal groups are still present in the city.

We have not found evidence that Tabasco is a hub for trafficking in persons.  There is some evidence of labor exploitation in the agricultural sector, but we found little evidence of organized human trafficking rings. Although we found hints of trafficking taking place in the city, there were no actual police cases of trafficking. Extortion, kidnapping, assault, robbery and sexual assault are much more common occurrences. Sexual abuse and robbery are the most common crimes targeting women and children. No organized trafficking rings were identified in Tenosique. With the exception of areas near the border, it does not seem that organized crime is significantly present in the city.