Mexico’s immigration authority mislabelled hundreds of migrants as trafficking or smuggling victims in 2019, found data obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation
By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, July 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexico's immigration authority misreported the number of migrant victims of human trafficking and smuggling it identified last year, new data show, as advocates said a lack of reliable data was hindering the government's efforts to tackle the crimes.
The National Migration Institute (INM) said in January that it had supported 601 trafficking and smuggling victims between December 2018 and November 2019.
Yet data obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed the true figure was 167, and that most of the migrants had been victims of other crimes from robbery and extortion to homicide.
A freedom of information request found 116 migrants had been smuggled while 51 were trafficked. The former refers to people who willingly pay to cross borders illegally whereas the latter involves individuals being exploited through force or deception.
An INM official said there had been an "imprecision" with the January data and confirmed that the 601 migrants had not all been trafficked or smuggled. INM is the agency responsible for regulating migration, including visas and deportations.
The erroneous numbers come at a time when advocates say the government has little to show for its fight against trafficking. Top officials rarely discuss the issue and a national plan to combat it - scheduled for last year - has not been published.
"We don't know if (the INM) did it on purpose or if it was a mistake," said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at U.S.-based George Mason University who studies trafficking.
"No matter the reason they got it wrong, it's bad."
The president's office did not respond to questions about the data or its plans for combating trafficking.
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has said there may be between 50,000 and 500,000 trafficking victims in Mexico - from sexual exploitation to forced labor - but academics say the real number is hard to pin down with concrete data lacking.
Thousands of migrants pass through Mexico each year, mostly people from Central America aiming to reach the United States.
The government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador last year sent thousands of troops to the nation's southern border to prevent migrants passing, sometimes leading to violent clashes.
Rodolfo Casillas, an academic at the Latin American Faculty Of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Mexico City, said the true number of migrants trafficked or smuggled through Mexico each year was likely far higher than the figure recorded by the INM.
"If you take into account the context of what happened in the year, the number is insignificant," he said, referring to the large number of migrants that passed through the country.
"It's a situation that almost makes you want to cry."
The United States' annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report - published last month - said the Mexican government should increase resources and training for officials to accurately identify and refer trafficking victims for support.
Last year, a government watchdog said state and federal prosecutors lacked basic information on most of the foreign trafficking victims found between June 2012 and July 2017.
Activist Monica Salazar, head of the non-profit Dignificando el Trabajo (DITRAC), said that there was a lack of understanding and political will on trafficking in the current administration.
"There's very little interest in general ... there still isn't much clarity," she said.
Drugs, oil... women? Mexican cartels turn to human trafficking
'We can't allow it': Mexico rights watchdog eyes sex trafficking
Mexico human trafficking cases rise by a third but many states found lagging
(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.