a sign is pictured in mexico’s national oil company pemex’s refinery in salamanca
The plight of migrants in northern Mexico, who are often kidnapped, extorted, and tortured by criminal groups and drug cartels, has been highlighted by a priest who works with them.
The priest, Father Pat Murphy, said that migrant kidnappings are happening “on a constant basis” and that the victims are subjected to horrific abuses and violence¹.
What are the motives and methods of the kidnappers?
The criminal groups and drug cartels that operate in northern Mexico have found a lucrative source of income in kidnapping migrants, especially those who are trying to reach the U.S. border or who have been expelled from the U.S. under the Title 42 policy, which allows for the rapid deportation of migrants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The kidnappers demand ransom from the migrants or their relatives, often in the U.S., in exchange for their release. The ransom amounts can range from $1,000 to $10,000 per person, depending on the nationality, gender, and age of the migrant².
The kidnappers use various methods to capture and detain the migrants, such as:
- Raiding buses, trains, or hotels where migrants travel or stay, and separating them from the rest of the passengers or guests.
- Posing as smugglers, guides, or humanitarian workers, and offering to help the migrants cross the border or find shelter, only to betray them and hand them over to the cartels.
- Setting up fake checkpoints, roadblocks, or ambushes, and stopping the migrants at gunpoint or with threats of violence.
- Infiltrating or collaborating with migrant shelters, camps, or organizations, and identifying or luring the migrants who are vulnerable or have relatives in the U.S.
- The kidnappers then take the migrants to safe houses, warehouses, or ranches, where they are held captive, often in overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions. The kidnappers then contact the migrants’ relatives, usually by phone, and demand the ransom, sometimes using torture, rape, or murder as a way to pressure or intimidate them. The kidnappers also force the migrants to reveal their personal information, such as their names, addresses, phone numbers, and bank accounts, which they can use to extort or rob them further³.
What are the impacts and implications of the kidnappings?
The kidnappings have devastating impacts and implications for the migrants and their families, as well as for the society and the region. The kidnappings have:
- Violated and infringed the human rights and dignity of the migrants, who are subjected to physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and who suffer from trauma, fear, and despair.
- Endangered and harmed the lives and health of the migrants, who are exposed to hunger, thirst, disease, injury, and death, and who lack access to medical care, legal assistance, or protection.
- Depleted and drained the resources and savings of the migrants and their families, who have to pay the ransom or incur other expenses, such as phone bills, transportation, or bribes, and who may fall into debt, poverty, or bankruptcy.
- Disrupted and delayed the migration process and plans of the migrants, who have to wait for weeks or months to be released or rescued, and who may lose their documents, belongings, or contacts, and who may face legal or administrative obstacles or penalties.
- Fueled and facilitated the criminal activity and violence of the groups and cartels, who have gained more money, power, and influence, and who have corrupted or intimidated the authorities, the media, or the civil society.
The kidnappings, therefore, are a serious and urgent problem that affects the migrants and their families, and that threatens the peace and stability of the region and the world. The kidnappings, therefore, require more attention and action from the governments, the organizations, and the communities, who should work together to prevent and combat the kidnappings, and to protect and assist the victims.