Mexico's Missed Opportunities to Protect Irregular Women Transmigrants: Applying a Gender Lens to Migration Law Reform

By Gnam, Alyson L. Dimmitt | Washington International Law Journal, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Mexico's Missed Opportunities to Protect Irregular Women Transmigrants: Applying a Gender Lens to Migration Law Reform


Gnam, Alyson L. Dimmitt, Washington International Law Journal


I. Introduction

On April 13, 2009, Nancy, a twenty-four-year-old Salvadoran migrant heading north to the United States, stayed at a shelter in Veracruz, a state in southern Mexico.1 While there, members of the criminal group the Zetas arrived at the shelter in large trucks and abducted her and 83 other migrants.2 The trucks took them to Reynosa, Tamaulipas on the United States.-Mexico border.3 Mexican immigration authorities and Federal Police they passed along the way accepted bribe money to waive them along.4 During the journey, the kidnappers sexually abused Nancy and the other kidnapped women; when a male migrant attempted to defend the women, he was raped by the kidnappers and beaten to death.5

In Reynosa, two of the women with Nancy paid the ransom asked by the kidnappers and were released.6 Unwilling to continue their journey, they turned themselves in to Mexican immigration authorities.7 These officials then sold the women back to the Zetas.8 The kidnappers brought the women back to the house, killed them, and displayed their bodies in front of Nancy and the other hostages.9

The kidnapper "bosses," three Mexican men, sexually abused Nancy h and the other women regularly. The "bosses" raped Nancy several times. The Zetas proposed that Nancy work for them, smuggling people from El Salvador; she agreed at first, hoping to escape, but then became afraid and declined their offer.12 She waited fifteen days for her aunt to gather the money required for her ransom before she was set free.13

Many women who migrate from Mexico to the United States can tell a story similar to Nancy's. Mexico to the United States is the principal migration corridor in the world,14 hosting the transmigration15 of hundreds of thousands of Latin American migrants on their journey to the United States.16 The term "feminization of migration" reflects the shift in migration patterns as women increasingly join migration flows as labor migrants.17 In Latin America, gender shapes migration processes as women make the difficult choice to migrate in response to the lack of employment opportunities due to economic and trade liberalization in Central America and the increased demand for female migrant labor in destination countries.18 The majority of women transmigrating Mexico are Central Americans destined for the United States.19 Women account for 10% to 30% of the northward migration flow of Central Americans in Mexico, and up to half of the migrant population in the United States.20

Irregular migrants21 who traverse Mexico (who are mostly Central Americans without legal status in Mexico) undertake one of the most dangerous migration journeys in the world.22 Organized criminal groups kidnap more than 20,000 migrants in situations similar to Nancy's each year.23 In 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur received many reports of migrants held in Mexico with hundreds of other captives and subjected to beatings, rape, gang rape, extortion, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.24 While criminal organizations target men and women migrants, women's experience of exploitation includes a unique and extremely high risk of sexual and gender-based violence.25 While all transmigrants in Mexico face a high risk of violence during transit, women irregular migrants are the "vulnerable among the vulnerable."26

Until 2011, the 1974 Ley General de Población ("General Population Law" ("LGP")) and its regulations issued in 2000 governed the rights of migrants traveling into or through Mexico.27 The LGP did not provide legal migration channels for transmigrants, while increased enforcement efforts during the last ten years sought to stem migration from Central America.28 This restrictive migration regime pushed migrants, especially women, into illicit migration channels and human smuggling situations that made them more vulnerable to kidnapping, sexual violence, and human trafficking.29 The gendered impact of Mexican migration policy included rampant impunity for abuses of migrants, increasing women migrants' vulnerability to violence by organized criminal groups. …

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