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Mexican officials said they had found 31 Latin American migrants who were kidnapped near the southern US border over the weekend, as record numbers of people make treacherous journeys to try to reach the US.
The 31 migrants from Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador had been on a coach from Monterrey to Matamoros, which borders Texas, when they were detained on Saturday, public security minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said on Wednesday. They were forced off the coach by armed masked men and into five vans, she said.
“These kinds of events happened to one or two, three migrants, but this number in this area is atypical,” Rodriguez said.
On Wednesday afternoon, interior minister Luisa Alcalde said on X that the 31 migrants had been rescued alive, without giving further details.
A record number of migrants are travelling through Central America and Mexico to reach the US border, making it a top issue for the US election in November and a significant problem for President Joe Biden. Last week, secretary of state Antony Blinken and other senior officials were in Mexico City meeting Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Republicans have been sharply critical of Democrats’ efforts to contain the crisis. On Wednesday, Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and dozens of his Republican colleagues travelled to Eagle Pass, Texas, along the US-Mexico border to survey the situation.
The Senate is also attempting to hammer out a bipartisan agreement to address the border crisis, although lawmakers left Washington for the holiday break without a deal.
The issue has also become a political flashpoint between US states. Republican-led Texas has arranged to transport thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities such as Washington, New York and Chicago.
Migrants are often targeted as they pass through Mexico for extortion or ransom payments by criminal groups who know they are unlikely to report crimes to the authorities, which in turn are unlikely to investigate anyway.
A record 2.5mn people were found by US authorities illegally crossing the southern US border in the year to September. The migrants arriving at the border are increasingly arriving from outside the region, with more than half coming from beyond Mexico and northern Central America in 2023, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Francisco Gallardo, a priest who runs migrant shelters in Reynosa and Matamoros, said he has been hearing for months about kidnapping for ransom of men, women and children who said they were abused, beaten and tortured while they were held.
“It’s a terrible situation. They arrive so vulnerable and in a terrible state of fear and uncertainty and pain where they’ve been asked for money.”
Mexicans have suffered for decades at the hands of organised criminal groups, often in collusion with local and national security forces and politicians. Since the number of murders began to jump in 2008 amid a crackdown on drug cartels, more than 400,000 people have been murdered, data from statistics agency INEGI shows. More than 113,000 people are missing, according to a government database.
López Obrador has been criticised for taking a hands-off approach to crime, allowing criminal groups to take further territory and consolidate power. Last month there were several incidents of extreme violence in the country, including 11 young people shot dead when gunmen attacked a party and 14 killed when farmers revolted against a criminal group extorting them.
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