MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's government on Monday highlighted the weekend "rescue" of nearly 800 migrants packed into semi-trailers, calling the operation a message that authorities are getting serious about combatting human trafficking.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said more than 150 of the 785 migrants found inside the double trailers of four semis Saturday in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz were children.
"We can't allow human trafficking," Ebrard said, contending that for many years it was tolerated by Mexican officials. "We might be experiencing one of the greatest human trafficking (situations) in the world."
Saturday's incident was a rescue because the migrants could have suffocated inside the trailers, he said.
Each of the migrants was paying $3,500 to be smuggled to the United States and some paid $5,000 to be entitled to a second attempt if caught, Ebrard said.
He estimated the entire value of the truck caravan's human cargo at more than $3.5 million (69 million pesos) and said the smugglers were going to pay roughly $500,000 to $800,000 in "commissions" to ensure the migrants' free passage.
Bribes are traditionally paid along the route to authorities, but also to organized crime groups that control territory, especially at Mexico's northern border with the US and charge smugglers for each migrant they cross.
Ebrard also said the government has a message for the owners of trucks caught carrying migrants: They will no longer escape criminal charges by arguing they didn't know their trucks were being used to smuggle.
Mexico is racing to lower the number of Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. border. The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to reduce the flow in order to avoid crippling tariffs on Mexican imports threatened by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Ebrard said Mexico was meeting weekly with governments from Central America's Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador — to exchange information about smuggling rings. But he said he also expected cooperation from the U.S. government.
"The United States has to assume its responsibility in this, too," he said. "The key part is who do they pay there (in the U.S.)? And the question is these trailers get to the border and what happens?"