2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico

MEXICO: Tier 2

The Government of Mexico does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mexico remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting more traffickers; providing funding to three NGOs that operate trafficking shelters; and increasing efforts of the Secretariat of Finance’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) to collect intelligence in support of trafficking investigations and prosecutions. The government arrested two current or former public officials for suspected complicity in two trafficking cases authorities failed to address for numerous years. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not prosecute or convict any public officials for complicity in trafficking crimes; took limited action to investigate and prosecute forced labor crimes; and failed to allocate funds to a legally-required victim assistance fund. Authorities did not consistently employ a victim-centered approach and overall services for victims were inadequate. Fraudulent recruitment practices continued to be widespread, but the government did not take steps to hold recruiters or labor agents accountable.


Develop, implement, and fund a national strategic action plan on victim services, in consultation with international organizations and NGOs, to include shelters, comprehensive services, and reintegration support for all victims, including men and boys, LGBTQI+ individuals, and indigenous persons. • Develop and implement standardized procedures for front-line officials to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups in Mexico and overseas—including individuals in commercial sex, children apprehended for illicit gang-related activities, Cuban medical professionals, and migrants, including migrant workers—and refer them to service providers for assistance. • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including forced labor and those involving complicit officials, at both the federal and state levels. • Increase and institutionalize anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, judges, immigration authorities, and service providers, with a focus on applying trauma-informed, victim-centered procedures. • Provide improved security to victims and witnesses testifying against traffickers and ensure victims are not unlawfully detained, coerced into testifying, or otherwise re-traumatized. • Allocate funds to a legally required victim assistance fund to cover restitution payments convicted traffickers are unable to pay and develop a mechanism to ensure victims receive court-ordered payments. • Strengthen the labor law to adequately criminalize and establish stringent penalties for recruitment practices that facilitate trafficking, and increase enforcement to punish employers and labor recruiters for violations. • Enact anti-trafficking legislation and establish specialized anti-trafficking prosecution units in all states. • Enact, implement, and allocate sufficient resources toward a new national action plan that is coordinated across federal, state, and local authorities. • Conduct culturally relevant awareness campaigns in local languages targeted for rural and indigenous communities. • Strengthen data collection efforts.


The government maintained law enforcement efforts; while authorities obtained more convictions, the government did not provide complete data on prosecution efforts. The 2012 anti-trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of five to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines for sex trafficking offenses and five to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines for labor trafficking; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. Federal officials had jurisdiction over all international trafficking cases, all cases that took place on federally administered territory involving organized crime, and all cases involving allegations against government officials. States investigated other internal trafficking cases. Twenty-eight states had enacted trafficking laws. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor; 30 of 32 states had established specialized anti-trafficking prosecutors or units. Local experts reported prosecutors sometimes charged suspects with crimes they believed were easier to prove, such as homicide or kidnapping, particularly in states where prosecutors’ offices were underfunded. The 2019 Asset Forfeiture Law allowed authorities to seize a trafficker’s assets.

Authorities initiated 55 federal investigations and 550 state investigations in 2020, compared with 133 federal investigations and at least 545 state investigations in 2019, and 112 federal and 304 state investigations in 2018. State-level investigations included 332 suspected sex trafficking cases, 12 suspected forced labor cases, and 206 cases in which the type of exploitation was not specified. Federal authorities initiated prosecution of 40 suspected traffickers and continued 35 prosecutions opened in previous years for a total of 75 federal prosecutions in 2020, approximately half as many as in 2019. The government reported state-level prosecutions in 14 states for a total of 51 cases. In comparison, authorities prosecuted at least 522 individuals in federal and state cases in 2019 and at least 510 in 2018. In response to the pandemic, federal and state courts suspended all legal proceedings between March and May 2020. Prosecutors reported temporary closures of government offices and the judicial system hampered efforts to investigate new cases and prosecute pending cases, as reduced staff in most offices slowed or halted requests for information, intergovernmental collaboration, and other routine investigative activities. Authorities convicted 59 traffickers in federal and state cases in 2020, compared with 29 traffickers convicted in 2019 and 60 convicted in 2018. Federal authorities convicted 13 sex traffickers while state authorities convicted 40 sex traffickers, four labor traffickers, and two traffickers whose type of exploitation was not specified. In June 2020, the State of Mexico issued the government’s first trafficking conviction through a virtual platform. The government issued sentences for convicted traffickers ranging from three years’ to 195 years’ imprisonment, and the average term of imprisonment was 21 years. UIF investigated suspicious financial transactions and its intelligence led to the issuance of arrest warrants for suspected traffickers in several states; in one case, UIF froze bank accounts belonging to seven suspects in a child sex trafficking network and police issued five arrest warrants for suspects in this case. In 2020, UIF received 230 reports of suspicious financial transactions allegedly related to human trafficking, primarily from Jalisco, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, the State of Mexico, and Mexico City. In July 2020, UIF signed a cooperation agreement with the NGO operating the national anti-trafficking hotline to collect data from calls that could be used to trace illicit financial activity potentially linked to trafficking crimes.

Mexican authorities continued law enforcement cooperation with the United States, including the apprehension and extradition to the United States of a trafficking suspect, prosecution training that led to successful convictions in three states, and ongoing information assistance on three transnational trafficking cases. The government also extradited one trafficking suspect to Spain and began arrangements with the governments of Argentina and Peru to extradite one suspect to each country.

State-level specialized prosecution units, whose capacity levels, staffing, and funding varied widely, had the primary responsibility for enforcing anti-trafficking laws throughout the country. Prosecutor offices in rural and indigenous communities were particularly understaffed and lacked sufficient resources to effectively prosecute trafficking crimes. Coordination across state and federal levels continued to be slow. Authorities from the four states of Mexico City, State of Mexico, Baja California, and Nuevo Leon conducted more than half of all investigations in 2020, while authorities in Campeche and Colima did not investigate any suspected cases. The government identified the states of Veracruz, Tlaxcala, and Guerrero as having high trafficking prevalence, but authorities in these states did not convict any traffickers in 2020. Local experts cited insufficient funding for prosecutors in these states led them to charge suspects with crimes they believed easier to prove. State-level authorities in Tlaxcala signed an agreement with UIF to enhance collaboration in combating trafficking and corruption and formalized a partnership with U.S. law enforcement to provide assistance in apprehending trafficking suspects. Authorities reported pandemic mitigation efforts, including temporary closures of bars and hotels, impeded investigations and evidence collection in possible sex trafficking cases occurring in these venues. A public university conducted a 30-hour training course on gender-sensitive victim interview techniques for 30 employees of the federal prosecutor’s office, and several federal agencies conducted anti-trafficking training sessions for law enforcement or criminal justice officials during the year.

Trafficking-related corruption remained a concern. Some government officials colluded with traffickers or participated in trafficking crimes. In September 2020, the government established a hotline and website open to the public for the anonymous reporting of suspected corruption involving public officials, but it did not report receiving any trafficking-related tips. In November 2020, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received six claims of trafficking-related human rights abuses by public officials. As a result, CNDH opened new investigations into two claims and ultimately referred one to the Attorney General’s Office for criminal investigation. CNDH added two claims to ongoing investigations and dismissed the other two for lack of sufficient information. In February 2021, authorities arrested the former governor of Puebla for ordering the 2005 torture and illegal arrest of a journalist who exposed the official’s alleged involvement in a child sex trafficking ring. In March 2021, in a case first exposed by a journalist in 2014, authorities issued arrest warrants for five current or former employees of a national political party—one of whom was a state representative—for allegedly running a sex trafficking operation with party resources. Authorities apprehended one suspect and UIF froze financial accounts linked to the alleged ringleader and 43 others allegedly involved in money laundering, corruption, or human trafficking crimes related to this case; remaining suspects were not apprehended during the reporting period. The government did not provide updates on investigations of four immigration officials alleged to have received payments for facilitating the entry and residency of foreign trafficking victims in Mexico in a previous reporting period. Unlike last year, the government did not prosecute or convict any officials for complicity in trafficking crimes.


The government maintained protection efforts, identifying more victims; however, it did not provide adequate services to victims. The government reported identifying 673 victims in 2020, compared with 658 victims in 2019 and 706 victims in 2018. An NGO that operated the national trafficking hotline reported receiving 1,931 trafficking-related calls—originating from throughout the country—and identifying 245 victims from these calls; 45 investigations resulted from calls to the hotline. These victims included 196 women and girls, 39 men and boys, and 10 with gender unspecified; and 140 Mexican citizens, 49 foreigners, and 56 with nationality unspecified. The NGO reported identifying more male victims than the previous year, the majority of whom were exploited in forced labor. Hotline staff referred 181 victims to government and NGO service providers for medical, psychological, and legal assistance and 64 for psychological and legal counseling. This organization trained 600 police officers in Mexico City to respond to referrals from the hotline. The government identified and assisted 313 Mexican victims of human trafficking exploited abroad during the first half of 2020, including 301 in the United States, and 12 in other countries. Among these victims were 33 men, 39 women, 155 boys, and 86 girls. The government did not provide data on victims identified abroad during the second half of 2020. In comparison, authorities identified and assisted 933 victims abroad in 2019 and 860 in 2018.

Immigration officials implemented a formal screening, identification, and care protocol to identify and refer potential trafficking victims during initial immigration verification and regularization. In January 2021, authorities agreed to modify this protocol to require screening among migrants in detention centers and requested assistance from an international organization in drafting updated guidance; authorities did not complete these revisions by the close of the reporting period. Consular officials followed a protocol for identifying and providing assistance to Mexican victims abroad, and some other agencies followed informal victim referral procedures. Labor inspectors had a protocol for identifying suspected forced labor victims during routine inspections of formally-registered businesses and farms, but local observers reported a lack of coordination with other secretariats to facilitate criminal investigations and victim assistance. Across the government, victim referral from first responders was largely ad hoc and procedures varied from state to state, with most shelters relying on prosecutors to identify and refer victims. Most government officials lacked standardized procedures to proactively identify potential victims of trafficking within vulnerable groups and systematically refer them to service providers. NGOs reported authorities at all levels of government lacked sufficient understanding of trafficking laws and failed to effectively identify and refer potential victims.

Federal and state agencies generally offered victims emergency assistance, such as medical care, food, and housing in temporary or transitional homes, and other services, such as psychological, and legal services, often in partnership with NGOs. However, victim services varied throughout the country; were unavailable in some regions; and were particularly inadequate for male victims, forced labor victims, and victims in rural areas. Shelters at both the state and local levels typically housed victims only for the duration of a criminal trial and long-term reintegration services were very limited, leaving victims highly vulnerable to re-exploitation.

The government did not provide complete data for victims receiving services. As of October 2020, 82 adult and child victims resided in specialized government and NGO trafficking shelters across the country. The Special Prosecutor for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City that could accommodate 50 female victims and their children for up to three months while victims participated in legal processes; the shelter served 11 trafficking victims during the year. NGOs expressed concerns that the high-security measures, including victims’ inability to leave the shelter unaccompanied, may have re-traumatized some victims. The states of Mexico, Chiapas, and Mexico City continued operating six government-funded trafficking shelters. In total, seven states had specialized government or NGO shelters for trafficking victims, and four states had agreements in place that allowed them to refer trafficking victims to shelters in another state. The government and NGOs operated additional shelters that served other populations and could accept trafficking victims but did not provide specialized services. There were no government or NGO trafficking shelters available for male victims older than 13, and 12 states lacked any shelters that accepted trafficking victims. NGOs operated the majority of shelters that served trafficking victims. Most shelters offered medical, psychological, and legal assistance for victims, but the level of care and quality of services varied widely. Government centers for crime victims provided some trafficking victims with emergency services, as did state-level prosecutorial, social service, and human rights offices. Many NGOs altered or limited their operations in response to severe funding cuts from donors during the pandemic. Some newly identified child victims were placed into facilities already operating at capacity due to organizations’ lack of funds. The National Institute of Social Development launched a program to provide funding to women’s shelters; in 2020, three NGOs operating trafficking shelters submitted requests for funding and received approximately 11.3 million pesos (565,000) through this program.

FEVIMTRA coordinated with local embassies to provide legal, administrative, and consular assistance to victims from Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela and repatriated six victims to their home countries. The government did not report providing temporary immigration relief through humanitarian visas to any victims in 2020; in comparison, the government provided visas to 60 victims of human trafficking in 2019. Humanitarian visas enabled foreign trafficking victims to legally remain and work in the country up to one year and could be extended; this benefit was not dependent on a victims’ willingness to participate in a criminal trial. Government officials and NGOs acknowledged barriers to victims receiving humanitarian visas, including authorities’ failure to identify eligible foreign trafficking victims, insufficient efforts to make victims aware of the process for obtaining such relief, and the lengthy wait times for processing requests.

The law provided victims with protection from punishment for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. However, due to a lack of formal identification procedures, including among children apprehended for gang-related criminal activity or migrants in detention facilities, authorities may have detained or jailed some unidentified victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. NGOs reported authorities sometimes unlawfully detained victims on trafficking charges and some officials utilized shelters as detention facilities for victims until their cases were completed. In January 2021, CNDH issued a recommendation to the government to provide compensation to a sex trafficking victim following its determination that authorities violated the victim’s human rights by detaining her in a migrant detention center in 2018 and failing to properly provide assistance.

The anti-trafficking law stipulated authorities must apply the principle of “maximum protection” to victims and witnesses, including protecting individuals’ identities and providing name and residence changes to victims affected by organized crime. Nonetheless, identifying information sometimes became publicly available in high-profile cases, and many victims feared identifying themselves or testifying against traffickers in court under the accusatorial system. NGOs reported officials often re-traumatized victims through a lack of sensitivity and the lack of adequate protection for victims during criminal proceedings. Experts expressed concern that prosecutors coerced some victims to testify during judicial proceedings. Authorities’ failure to employ victim-centered procedures, combined with an overall lack of specialized services and security, disincentivized victims from filing complaints or participating in investigations and prosecutions. Women, indigenous persons, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrants experienced discrimination within the judicial system that limited their access to justice.

The Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) had a unit responsible for supporting access to justice and compensation for victims of federal crimes, but the government did not provide it with sufficient funding and trained personnel, limiting its ability to provide this support to trafficking victims. A public university conducted training on providing assistance to trafficking victims for 35 employees in this unit. The national anti-trafficking law required judges in criminal cases at both the state and federal levels to order traffickers to pay restitution to victims and required the government to create a fund to cover restitution payments perpetrators could not pay. However, the government did not create this fund, and no victims received restitution despite judges ordering these payments in all cases that resulted in convictions at both state and federal levels. The government anti-trafficking commission continued funding an international organization to develop a national information system to track the number of victims identified, referred, and assisted across the country, but the pandemic delayed the system’s implementation.


The government maintained prevention efforts. The anti-trafficking commission, led by SEGOB, coordinated efforts among government agencies and civil society organizations. Local experts reported the commission was effective in promoting participation of stakeholders from academia, NGOs, and international organizations, and it encouraged transparency at its regular meetings and in its five permanent working groups. The government lacked a national anti-trafficking action plan for a second year, following the previous plan’s expiration in 2018. In December 2020, the government launched its National Program for Human Rights 2020-2024, which included a chapter on prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts to combat trafficking. In November 2020, following the murders of two children who may have been victims of forced criminality, authorities in Mexico City launched a multisectoral strategy to provide opportunities and support for vulnerable children, aimed at preventing their exploitation in criminal activity.

The government conducted a variety of anti-trafficking training and awareness programs for government officials and members of the public. CNDH adapted its public outreach efforts to digital platforms in response to the pandemic, allowing it to reach a greater number of participants than the previous year; these events, which focused on strengthening government-civil society cooperation in preventing and responding to trafficking, reached more than 20,000 individuals, including government officials, teachers, and parents. The Secretariat of Welfare conducted seminars, presentations, plays, and film showings to raise awareness of trafficking through both virtual and in-person events, and it trained 1,066 public officials on trafficking prevention and victim protection. A public university held four interactive conferences on combating trafficking attended by 70,000 members of the public. Nonetheless, awareness and understanding of trafficking, particularly forced labor, remained low among the public. Experts noted prevention campaigns insufficiently reached high-risk groups such as children, rural and indigenous communities, and non-Spanish speakers.

The government did not allocate sufficient resources or personnel to the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare to effectively enforce labor laws. Furthermore, labor inspectors had a limited mandate for conducting oversight of working conditions in informal businesses and farms—which employed more than half of Mexican workers—and a 24-hour advance notice requirement for routine inspections hampered their effectiveness when they did occur. Authorities conducted very few inspections in major farming states where abuses allegedly were rife, investigated few complaints, and did not report successful prosecutions for the crimes. The labor law lacked provisions criminalizing fraudulent recruitment and contract practices that made many workers vulnerable to trafficking. The law prohibited recruiters and labor agents from charging fees to workers and employers from passing agency fees to workers in the form of wage deductions; however, the law did not establish penalties for these practices and recruiters and employers continued to commit them with impunity. Civil contract law covered some fraudulent recruitment practices, but there was no evidence the government used these or other statues to hold recruiters or employers accountable.

The government continued implementation of a pilot program to enroll domestic workers in the government’s social security system, requiring the worker’s employer to formalize their status through a contract. Between April 2019 and November 2020, 27,600 domestic workers enrolled in the pilot program, a significant increase from 3,800 domestic workers enrolled in social security prior to the launch of this initiative. However, the government estimated this program should have reached approximately 2.4 million individuals working informally in this sector, and the vast majority of these workers remained in informal status without access to social security or other legal protections. In the previous reporting period, the Mexican legislature ratified a trade agreement that requires the parties to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor; the agreement entered into force in July 2020. The government’s anti-trafficking commission, with support from international organizations, established a working group to advance government compliance with these obligations but did not report any outcomes during the reporting period.

The Secretariat of Tourism organized 10 virtual conferences for 560 public officials on preventing and responding to trafficking and conducted awareness training for 4,150 employees of businesses that were party to a public-private code of conduct on the protection of children in the tourism sector. NGOs reported the government’s lack of follow-up and enforcement efforts limited the effectiveness of the code of conduct. The government did not investigate or prosecute any suspected child sex tourists. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by prosecuting and convicting individuals who purchased commercial sex acts from children.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mexico, and traffickers exploit victims from Mexico abroad. Groups considered most at risk for trafficking in Mexico include unaccompanied children, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, asylum seekers and migrants, IDPs, LGBTQI+ individuals, informal sector workers, and children in gang-controlled territories. Traffickers recruit and exploit Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men, in sex trafficking in Mexico and the United States through false promises of employment, deceptive romantic relationships, or extortion. The majority of trafficking cases occur among family, intimate partners, acquaintances on social media, or through employment-related traps. Transgender persons are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Traffickers increasingly use the internet, particularly social media, to target and recruit potential victims. Traffickers exploit Mexican adults and children in forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, child care, manufacturing, mining, food processing, construction, tourism, begging, and street vending in Mexico and the United States. Traffickers commonly exploit day laborers and their children in forced labor in Mexico’s agricultural sector; these individuals migrate from the poorest states to the agricultural regions to harvest vegetables, coffee, sugar, and tobacco; receive little or no pay, health care, or time off; may live in substandard housing; receive insufficient food; and in the case of children, are denied education. Recruitment agencies frequently employ deceptive recruitment practices and charge unlawful fees to hire agricultural workers in Mexico and the United States; many workers are compelled into forced labor through debt bondage, threats of violence, and non-payment of wages. NGOs estimated traffickers increasingly exploited individuals in forced labor in Mexico. The vast majority of foreign victims of forced labor and sex trafficking in Mexico are from Central and South America, particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela—with Venezuelan victims increasing in recent years; traffickers exploited some of these victims along Mexico’s southern border. NGOs and the media report victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Among the 1,285 Cuban medical professionals the government contracted to assist during the pandemic, some may have been forced to work by the Cuban government.

Organized criminal groups profit from sex trafficking and force Mexican and foreign adults and children to engage in illicit activities, including as assassins, lookouts, and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs. Experts expressed particular concern over the forced recruitment of indigenous children by organized criminal groups, who use torture and credible threats of murder to exploit these children in forced criminality. Criminal groups exploit thousands of children in Mexico to serve as lookouts, carry out attacks on authorities and rival groups, or work in poppy fields. Observers also expressed concern over recruitment of recently deported Mexican nationals and foreign migrants by organized criminal groups for the purpose of forced criminality. Increasingly, organized crime groups—both large and small—participate in trafficking of migrants, who are highly vulnerable to exploitation due to their transient nature, frequent reliance on smugglers, and fear of reporting abuses to authorities. Observers, including Mexican legislators, noted links between violence against women and girls and between women’s disappearances, murders, and trafficking by organized criminal groups. Observers reported potential trafficking cases in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, women’s shelters, and government institutions for people with disabilities, including by organized criminal groups and facility employees. Trafficking-related corruption remains a concern. Some government officials collude with traffickers or participate in trafficking crimes. Corrupt officials reportedly participate in sex trafficking, including running sex trafficking operations. Some immigration officials allegedly accept payment from traffickers to facilitate the irregular entry of foreign trafficking victims into Mexico.

NGOs reported child sex tourism remains a problem and continues to expand, especially in tourist areas and in northern border cities. Parents are sometimes complicit in exploiting their children in child sex tourism, and homeless children are believed to be at high risk. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe; Mexicans also purchase sex from child trafficking victims. Authorities reported a decrease in the use of the financial system by traffickers in 2020, likely due to pandemic-related restrictions on movement that made it difficult for the more profitable international sex trafficking networks to operate. Authorities reported trafficking networks increasingly used cryptocurrencies to launder proceeds from their crimes. The pandemic caused economic hardship, food insecurity, and mandated confinement that exacerbated many individuals’ existing vulnerabilities to trafficking and increased the number of individuals vulnerable to exploitation, particularly among migrants. Some workers accepted loans from their employers that left them highly vulnerable to debt bondage. There were reports that traffickers in Tlaxcala took sex trafficking victims to individuals’ homes to be exploited when commercial venues closed due to the pandemic.