Mexico’s president calls the deadly human smuggling ‘unfortunate’ and shifts the blame to the US

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has responded to an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners that documented the journeys of nearly 19,000 migrants to the U.S. border under dangerous conditions.

López Obrador, speaking in Spanish, described the smuggling of migrants through Mexico in trucks as “very unfortunate” but avoided questions during a lengthy news conference Thursday morning about whether his government should bear responsibility for it.

“You must help us convince the US authorities that we must tackle the migration phenomenon by helping poor people in their places of origin so that no one is forced to migrate,” he said, addressing reporters directly.

The “Trucks: A Trap for Migrants” investigation was led by Noticias Telemundo and the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP), in collaboration with ICIJ, Bellingcat and outlets in Mexico and Central America.

The cross-border team found that at least 111 people have been killed and hundreds injured over the past six years after traveling in trucks – often in unsafe, overcrowded conditions and scorching temperatures. The reporters also created a database identifying more than 170 trucks carrying migrants that were inspected, detained, involved in accidents or abandoned between 2018 and 2023. These cases represent only a small portion of the millions of trips to the U.S. border each year.

The study found that the phenomenon was partly caused by the Mexican government’s increasingly restrictive migration policies – under pressure from the US – that push migrants to take risks when crossing the country.

“There is a network of human traffickers who also deal with the transporters, and unsafe trucks are hired,” López Obrador said. “These trailers, these boxes, a lot of them have fallen over, a lot of deaths. Very unfortunate.”

When he came to power in 2018, López Obrador said Mexico would be more welcoming to migrants and promised safer transit. But he soon reversed course when the Trump administration threatened to raise tariffs on goods imported from Mexico. López Obrador’s government sent thousands of troops to Mexico’s borders and ordered bus companies to demand documents from passengers before selling them tickets. Migrant rights experts and advocates said the policy prevented migrants from traveling safely through Mexico.

In December 2021, after an 18-wheeler overturned and killed 56 people on a highway in Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, officials from six countries, including Mexico and the US, announced a new activist group to investigate. But ICIJ and its partners found that the action group met only once, in January 2022, and never released a promised report.

During the press conference, a Telemundo journalist asked López Obrador whether his government should be responsible for the deaths of migrants and the trauma of survivors. The president said Mexico is investigating those “responsible for this illegal migrant trade, punishing transporters and arresting gang leaders.”

López Obrador also said his government is investing millions to address the root causes of mass migration.

“We prefer to help them in the south (and) southeast, before they run the risk of reaching the northern border. It’s not easy. We even offer them jobs in the South East,” he said. “But those who leave their homes have already decided that they want to reach (the US). They have even already concluded an agreement, a contract with the human traffickers.”

López Obrador also emphasized that the US had not shaped Mexico’s policies. “Mexico is an independent country and the president of Mexico acts freely, he is not a puppet of any foreign government,” he said. But in June 2019 when the president announced the measure requiring passengers to provide documentation before purchasing bus ticketsHe said he did this to avoid the threat of higher tariffs from former President Donald Trump.

When pressed on Thursday by the Telemundo reporter, López Obrador acknowledged that Trump’s tactics had been “a problem” and that he had taken the path of least resistance. “Politics also chooses between inconveniences. You can’t please everyone. You have to make decisions, but you must always prioritize what is most important,” he said.