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Mexico mass grave highlights abuse of migrants heading to US

The Mexico mass grave of 72 bodies is seen as the latest evidence that drug cartels are increasingly preying on migrants headed to the US.

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Migrants from South and Central America

The story of the latest mass grave broke after an Ecuadorian migrant sought help from a military checkpoint in Tamaulipas. He claimed to have escaped the kidnapping that befell his fellow travelers, and pointed authorities to the scene of the crime at a ranch, about 100 miles south of the US border. Gunfire erupted as the military arrived to investigate the ranch, killing one marine and three gunmen.

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The Ecuadorian migrant, now hospitalized, told the Mexican press that the migrants were kidnapped by an armed group that identified themselves as the Zetas, who were trained as Mexican elite forces before breaking off and joining the drug trade. The Zetas may have sought to recruit the migrants to work in the drug trade, according to local reports.

The Ecuadorian migrant said he was traveling with people from Ecuador, Honduras, El Salvador, and Brazil. Overall, 58 men were found and 14 women. The Mexican government said it is trying to verify the identities of those dead with the various embassies involved.

It is unclear if they were killed all at once or over time. It is also unclear why these victims were targeted.

An increasingly treacherous journey north

The journey through Mexico has become more and more treacherous as suspected drug traffickers branch out into other businesses, including human trafficking. They are increasingly targeting migrants in a variety of ways, say analysts, authorities, and migrants.

Migrants are often victims not only because they are presumed to have cash on hand, but because many have relatives with cash in the US. This was confirmed to the Monitor during interviews with migrants at Tultitlan in central Mexico, a crossing ground for many heading to America.

At a shelter in Tultitlan, migrants say they are victims both of Mexican authorities seeking bribes and Mexican gangs who beat them for their cash, and worse, kidnap them in hopes of getting ransom from relatives in the US.

“It is not easy to be here as a migrant,” says Leticia Junez, a nun who works with migrants in Tultitlan. “Not only do they leave their families, they face all the dangers of crossing illegally, especially kidnapping.”

The migrant shelter where she volunteers in Tultitlan was itself victim of an assault in July, when men claiming to be federal police stormed the center and tried to speed away with migrants in their vans. The volunteers stopped it from happening. But it underscores their vulnerability, Sister Junez says. The case is still under investigation.

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