The United States has warned its citizens to stay away from the lawless border state of Tamaulipas, assigning the area in Mexico the same alert level given to war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Syria.
It’s here where many migrants who made it to the United States to ask for asylum have been kept in limbo.
Tamaulipas is both the location of most illegal crossings and the state where the United States has returned the most asylum seekers — 20,700 as of early October.
Migrants have remained there at the crossroads of Tamaulipas for weeks and sometimes months awaiting their U.S. court dates.
The Associated Press reported that gangs had a new prey with the migrants, ramping up kidnapping, extortion, and illegal crossings to extract money fueling their empires.
“There’s probably nothing worse you could do in terms of overall security along the border,” said Jeremy Slack, a geographer at the University of Texas at El Paso who has studied the border region, crime and migration in Mexico. “I mean, it really is like the nightmare scenario.”
The Mexico City-based Institute for Women in Migration, which has tracked kidnappings of migrants and asylum-seekers, documented 212 abductions in Tamaulipas from mid-July through Oct. 15. Of the documented kidnappings in Tamaulipas, 197 took place in Nuevo Laredo, a city of about 500,000 with international bridges contributing to the trade economy.
Kennji Kizuka, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights First, said gangs were in the Nuevo Laredo office of Mexican migration, openly abducting asylum seekers who the United States had just sent back.
As of August, Human Rights First had recorded 100 violent crimes against returnees. By October, after it rolled out to Tamaulipas, that had more than tripled to 340. Most involved kidnapping and extortion.
“They say ‘give me 10, 15, 25.’ They tell them they are going to take them to a safer place, and they give them to the highest bidder,” Edith Garrido, a nun who works at the Casa del Migrante shelter in Reynosa, explained. “A migrant is money for them, not a person.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.