Kidnapping and modern slavery at the Texas/Mexico border

Texas/Mexico border’s record numbers of kidnapping and modern slavery

  • Published on
    April 4, 2024
  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Human Trafficking
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Seeking asylum in the U.S. at the Mexico/Texas border has been a risky proposition for years. But aid workers, asylum attorneys, and service providers interviewed by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) say, in recent months, there has been a huge increase in kidnappings for ransom and modern slavery for migrants at the border. This increase is being attributed to the new U.S. immigration app CBP One coupled with rampant criminality in the main location migrants are channeled to.

Grabbed out of tents and exploited for ransom

Most migrants and asylum seekers coming from Mexico are channeled by U.S. border policies through Tamaulipas, an area in Mexico known by both governments as extremely dangerous for migrants due to numerous rival gangs operating with relative impunity in the region. However, researchers, humanitarian workers, and shelter staff interviewed found that since 2023 the kidnapping and extortion of migrants has greatly increased, describing it as the “worst period of violence” they’ve ever seen, both in numbers and brutality.

Those interviewed said:

“Most, or all, of the people served in the latter half of last year and this year have been kidnapped, battered, raped, forced to work for the cartel, or experienced other forms of abuse.”

At the U.S./Mexico border, Customs Border Protection (CBP) uses a system called “metering” through the app CBP One to control the flow of asylum seekers, a policy U.S. federal court declared violates U.S. law. The inability of the current system to effectively process the volume of migrants means many are stranded for weeks or months in limbo leaving them vulnerable to known criminal elements waiting to exploit them through kidnapping for ransom or worse.

Sadly, Mexican authorities often tolerate or are even complicit in these migrant kidnapping schemes, meaning asylum seekers have little to no legal protections or recourse.

Mothers forced into sex work to protect their children

Once migrants have been kidnapped, the situation for many gets even worse. If they or their families cannot pay the ransom fees, they face conditions approaching modern slavery. Survivors report having to do various types of forced labor for the criminal organizations who kidnapped them including mothers forced into sex work to keep their children from harm.

Other migrants are forced to act as interpreters for the criminals and other kidnapping victims, witnessing extreme physical violence and then being forced to “clean up” afterward. Some migrants even report being “sold” to cartels by the Mexican authorities themselves.

WOLA states:

“For an individual or family fleeing their home country and hoping to seek asylum in the United States, U.S. law offers few options.”

Clearly, the current system is failing migrants seeking asylum and more needs to be done. According to WOLA, the most important step the U.S. government can take to address this growing crisis is to allow timely access to the asylum system and prevent buildups in known dangerous border areas. By increasing the processing capacity near legal ports of entry, coupled with improving the asylum adjudication and case management process overall, much of this violence can be prevented.

At Freedom United, we believe hostile immigration policies, like CBP One, perpetuate exploitation and allow modern slavery to flourish. If you haven’t already, add your voice to the growing call demanding safe migration for all to prevent and protect migrants everywhere against human trafficking and violence.


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