Crime and Violence · Human Rights and Civil Society

Spike in Migration Straining U.S.- Mexico Relations

Source: Associated Press

10/19/2023 (written by tfaris) – According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), immigrant encounters, (the sum of all people not legally permitted to be in the United States and turned away by Border Patrol), have been sharply increasing since June 2023 and continue to rise. In Tamaulipas, the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa have recently seen large influxes of migrant arrivals due to their proximity to ports of entry. This increase in migrant arrivals has had significant reverberating effects on these cities, including increased violence and border crossing closures. 

Violence in Matamoros and Reynosa

The increased presence of migrants in Matamoros and Reynosa has led to a reported increase in kidnapping, extortion, and rape (NBC News). Criminal groups in the area, including the Gulf Cartel and Northeast Cartel, which are both active in this region, take advantage of migrants. Using torture methods such as kidnapping and sexual violence, these criminal groups demand ransom payments from migrants. Longer wait times for CBP appointments also leave migrants vulnerable in these dangerous border cities for longer periods of time. Tens of thousands of migrants are vying every day for 1,450 appointment slots offered by CBP. 

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The story of one woman, Carolina, exemplifies how criminal groups kidnap migrants, then torture them to incentivize them or their families to pay the ransom amount that the criminal group has demanded. Carolina, a migrant from Venezuela, was kidnapped and taken to a storehouse in Reynosa this past May. While she was held there, she was raped by the men holding her hostage and forced to ask her family in Venezuela to pay the $2,000 ransom. According to NBC, “Criminal investigations into the rape of foreign nationals, excluding Americans, were the highest on record in the two cities this year, according to state data from 2014 to 2023…” 

A study carried out by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography estimated that the rate of inhabitants of Tamaulipas over the age of 18 that have had an experience with violence is 59.1%. As Justice in Mexico reported, four American tourists were kidnapped and two of them were killed in Matamoros in March. The group of travelers was attacked just minutes after crossing the border from Texas into Matamoros. 

The state of Tamaulipas continues to be considered a high risk travel location.The U.S. Department of State placed a “Do not travel” advisory on the area.

Political repercussions

The increased amount of immigrant encounters and illegal border crossings caused CBP to temporarily close the El Paso/Juarez Bridge of the Americas border crossing to northbound traffic. The closure lasted from September 18 to October 9, 2023. CBP closed cargo traffic to allow them to focus on processing migrants, as the increase in migration was not allowing them to do both. According to the El Paso Times, cargo flow was reduced to almost nothing during this closure, hurting the local economy. 

The United States and Mexico are collaborating in an attempt to relieve the burden these border cities are facing as a result of all these factors. The mayor of El Paso has expressed his concern that the city’s shelter system is overwhelmed, and the city of Eagle Pass, Texas has declared a state of emergency. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent additional resources to the border to help aid the over-populated migrant centers. Mexico agreed to deport migrants from its northern border cities to their home countries. Mexico also ensured that they would work with the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Cuba to track these deported migrants. Mexican authorities will also follow migrants on their train system, as the train system is the most common way migrants from other Latin American countries reach the northern border of Mexico.

Source: The New York Times

U.S. – Mexico relations

The Biden Administration announced on October 5th their decision to continue the project to expand parts of the border wall. The funding for this project was confirmed in 2019, and the Biden Administration stated their belief that physical barriers are needed to curb illegal crossings. The proposed new barriers consist of about 20 miles in total of new walls on the border of Texas and Mexico. The New York Times reported the administration has stated that they are waiving more than 20 federal laws and regulations to allow for the construction of these new barriers. 

On October 4, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken traveled to Mexico City to meet with Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to discuss issues of migration and drug trafficking. In regards to migration, the United States will ask Mexico to step up enforcement at their southern border with Guatemala in hopes to slow the pace of migrants arriving at the U.S. border. The United States is also concerned that AMLO has not acknowledged the severity of the drug crisis and the role Mexico plays in this crisis, as he has claimed on multiple times that fentanyl is not produced in Mexico. 
AMLO, on the other hand, encouraged the Biden administration to do more to stop the smuggling of firearms and other weapons from the United States to Mexico. He has also defended the security measures Mexico has taken to deter narco activity and has accused the United States. of making Mexico a scapegoat for the fentanyl epidemic (New York Times). Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington D.C. said, in response to the issues planned to be discussed between Secretary Blinken and AMLO, “We can’t solve migration or drug trafficking or fentanyl by ourselves without Mexico.”


Flores, Rosa, et. Al. “México hace el “trabajo sucio” de Estados Unidos en la frontera, dicen grupos que defienden los derechos de los migrantes.” CNN Español. September 25, 2023. 

Flores, Rosa; et. Al. “Mexico makes agreement with US to deport migrants from its border cities as one mayor warns his city is at ‘a breaking point’.” CNN. September 24, 2023. 

Jcarillo. “Four Americans kidnapped in Matamoros by members of the Gulf Cartel.” Justice in Mexico. March 21, 2023. 

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan, et. Al. “Blinken Travels to Mexico Aid Rising Tension Over Border, Drug Trafficking.” The New York Times. October 4, 2023. 

Kolenc, Vic. “Bridge of Americas port of entry reopening to cargo trucks as border traffic jams continue.” El Paso Times. October 9, 2023. 

Kolenc, Vic. “Border truck lines grow as CBP closes Bridge of Americas to cargo, DPS inspections.” El Paso Times. September 20, 2023.

Reuters. “More migrants are victims of rape, sexual violence at Mexico border.” NBC News. September 29, 2023. 

Shortell, David. “Mientras México toma medidas enérgicas contra los migrantes, el presidente Andrés Manuel López Obrador gana influencia ante Washington.” CNN Español. October 5, 2023. 

Sullivan, Eileen; et. Al. “Biden, the Border, and Why a New Wall Is Going Up.” New York Times. October 6, 2023. 

Tello, Anel. “Narco y política: la relación que sumergió a Tamaulipas en una incesable ola de violencia.” Milenio. September 26, 2023. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “CBP One Mobile Application.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. August 16, 2023. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Southwest Land Border Encounters.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection. September 22, 2023.

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