The bullet-riddled bodies of 72 Central and South Americans reportedly slain by drug traffickers in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas shine a light on the dark truth known to undocumented migrants: The illegal trek north through Mexico is treacherous, and those who undertake it put themselves at the mercy of vicious predators. Even before they reach the potentially fatal desert crossing into the United States, thousands of migrants each year face kidnapping, extortion, sexual assault and murder — crimes that often go unreported and unsolved.
An Ecuadorean survivor of the massacre has told officials that the victims were gunned down after refusing to pay or work for the Zetas, the dominant cartel in the region. This would be consistent with reports that drug cartels are diversifying into the lucrative human trafficking business, collecting fees of up to $7,000 a head from relatives in the United States while often forcing migrants to carry drugs with them across the border. But many questions remain unanswered, not the least of which is why the traffickers would kill such valuable prey.
The case is the latest evidence of the well-documented violence against migrants that Mexican officials have been unwilling or unable to confront. Amnesty International has described an "epidemic" of abuses against migrants. In 2009, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission issued a report concluding that 9,758 illegal immigrants had been kidnapped in a six-month period ending in February of that year, including at least 57 children. Among the states with the most cases: Tamaulipas.