Gang violence and drug cartels operating in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas are life-threatening obstacles for migrants attempting to reach the U.S.-Mexican border.
In northern Mexico, 22 men believed to be Central American migrants were kidnapped at gunpoint while traveling on a bus last Thursday, Mexican officials said Monday.
The gunmen let the rest of the passengers go unharmed after intercepting the bus in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas last Thursday. As Mexican authorities had not been contacted by any family members of those missing, state security spokesman Luis Alberto Rodriguez said they may likely be migrants
"There are no complaints, there are no relatives who are filing claims for the people who are missing," he said.
Rodriguez said later that following investigations, authorities had registered 22 people missing, previously 19 had been reported missing.
A group of 25 migrants was pulled off another bus under similar circumstances in February, a top Mexican human rights officials said. They remain missing.
In the same state, military personnel rescued 34 Central Americans from a home in the violent northeastern state of Tamaulipas, however no arrests were made because the people watching over the migrants fled, Mexican authorities said Wednesday
The eight Guatemalans, 25 Hondurans and one El Salvadoran who were rescued, are likely not the same group of people as the 22 passengers kidnapped by armed men from a bus in northern Mexico last week, a spokeswoman for the state of Tamaulipas said.
"Military personnel rescued 34 people of Central American nationality, of which 19 are adults and 15 minors ... At the same address 4 vehicles, 3 high-caliber weapons, magazines and cartridges were found," state authorities said in a statement.
Tamaulipas has for years suffered high levels of murders and disappearances amid clashes between violent criminal gangs. In August 2010, 72 undocumented migrants from Central and South America were murdered at a ranch in Tamaulipas by the Zetas gang. A year later, nearly 200 corpses, many of them Mexican, were found in mass graves in the area.
The Zetas, who operate in Mexico and Guatemala began “as a group of deserters from an elite unit of the armed forces at the service of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas would go on to become one of the most powerful and feared cartels in Mexico,” InSight Crime reported, adding that the group is now “a fragmented force, held together by little more than a name and increasingly dependent on local criminal revenues rather than the transnational flow of drugs for their income,” though they remain dangerous.
Drug cartels and gang violence are life-threatening obstacles to people fleeing violence and poverty in Central American countries for a glimmer of hope to enter the United States and start over.
However, the U.S. is expanding its program to send asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait out their U.S. court proceedings and so far has returned 240 people since starting the program in January, U.S. officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Tuesday.
The officials said the policy, which was rolled out at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego earlier this year, has been expanded to the Calexico port, which is also in Southern California on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In addition, migrants who attempt to cross illegally and then ask for asylum in the U.S. border patrol's San Diego sector will now also be subject to return to Mexico, the officials said.
Mexico's foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the program's expansion to the Calexico port. Mexican officials have been in touch with U.S. immigration authorities about the migrants returning to Mexico, the ministry said.
One official said border authorities had only started turning back people who crossed between ports this past week. He said that "a very low number" of people who crossed illegally have been returned so far, while the vast majority of those who were sent back presented themselves at legal ports of entry to claim asylum.
The policy is the latest effort by the Trump administration to try to curb a sharp increase in the number of Central American families that are arriving at the border and claiming asylum. Administration officials say even though many of the asylum claims are ultimately denied, applicants, end up living in the United States for years while their court cases are processed.
But immigration advocates say that returning vulnerable migrants to dangerous border cities is illegal and violates U.S. obligations under international treaties. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued in federal court to halt the program.