The bullet-riddled bodies of 72 Central and South Americans reportedly slain by drug traffickers in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas shine a light on the dark truth known to undocumented migrants: The illegal trek north through Mexico is treacherous, and those who undertake it put themselves at the mercy of vicious predators. Even before they reach the potentially fatal desert crossing into the United States, thousands of migrants each year face kidnapping, extortion, sexual assault and murder — crimes that often go unreported and unsolved.
An Ecuadorean survivor of the massacre has told officials that the victims were gunned down after refusing to pay or work for the Zetas, the dominant cartel in the region. This would be consistent with reports that drug cartels are diversifying into the lucrative human trafficking business, collecting fees of up to $7,000 a head from relatives in the United States while often forcing migrants to carry drugs with them across the border. But many questions remain unanswered, not the least of which is why the traffickers would kill such valuable prey.
The case is the latest evidence of the well-documented violence against migrants that Mexican officials have been unwilling or unable to confront. Amnesty International has described an “epidemic” of abuses against migrants. In 2009, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission issued a report concluding that 9,758 illegal immigrants had been kidnapped in a six-month period ending in February of that year, including at least 57 children. Among the states with the most cases: Tamaulipas.
Migrants are assaulted and thrown off speeding trains. Some simply disappear. Human rights organizations estimate that as many as 6 in 10 women and girls are sexually assaulted on the journey. The crimes go unreported because the victims are in Mexico illegally or, according to human rights activists, because Mexican police and other authorities are participating in them.
The Tamaulipas massacre underscores the failure of the Mexican government to provide vulnerable migrants with the protection and due process required by international law and the Mexican Constitution. Clearly, those who make this journey do so out of desperation, or they wouldn’t take such risks. In the view of this page, violence is one of the principal arguments for establishing a safe and legal avenue for migrants to seek work in the United States. Mexicans rightly complain about the new immigration law in Arizona and discrimination against undocumented workers in the United States, but they also must take responsibility for the violence and end impunity for the crimes against migrants in Mexico.