The growth of organized crime in Mexico and Central America has led to an increase in violence and insecurity, posing challenges to citizens, public security forces, and travelers. Migrants crossing the region are particularly vulnerable, facing increasing threats from Mexican drug traffickers, Central American gangs, and corrupt government officials.

Migrants who choose to proceed even in the face of these risks increasingly are forced to seek the assistance of intermediaries known as polleros, or “coyotes.” Those who are unable to afford a coyote are more likely to be abused or kidnapped, and held for ransom along the way. While there is little consensus on the numbers, Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights estimates that about 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year by criminal organizations.

In Transnational Crime in Mexico and Central America: Its Evolution and Role in International Migration, Steven Dudley, the co-director of InSight Crime, traces the rise of Mexican criminal organizations and Central American gangs over recent decades and examines how these criminal groups impact migrants moving northward. The report reviews the origins and growth of the main illicit networks operating in Mexico and Central America, then outlines the little that is known about how criminal groups profit from, and in some cases facilitate, the flow of migrants northward.

Today’s report marks the second in a series of Study Group reports examining insecurity in the region. The first report, Border Insecurity in Central America’s Northern Triangle, examines the perennial problem of lawlessness along the borders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Within the next few weeks, the Study Group will release a third report, examining how democratic transitions in Mexico and Central America have tested the limits of their governing institutions.

The Study Group’s website,, showcases the initiative’s research to date, mission statement, and selected background readings. We invite you to check it out, now and in the months to come, as we publish more works in the lead-up to our final report in spring 2013.

Source: Migration Policy Institute