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Opinion: Hypocrisy revealed with 72 migrants killed

The slaughter underscored the brutal and hypocritical way immigrants are treated in Mexico.

Their clothes, their accents, their aura of fear, the routes they run through Mexico, how they cluster together — all are too much to hide. Some come by themselves, most in small groups with paid guides. Many are women, who the Human Rights Commission said are routinely sexually assaulted. A few are in families. Often they are leaping into a dark unknown.

“The passage of these brothers and sisters through our country continues to be marked by the defenselessness and vulnerability that the Mexican state forces on them,” the Mexican Catholic Bishops´ Conference said last month.

Mexican immigration authorities said they have convicted several of their employees and have 80 cases of human trafficking under investigation. That would be 80 cases compared to the Human Rights Commission's findings of 10,000 kidnappings in six months, though some cases would involve several victims.

Immigration authorities also said that so far this year they have rescued 2,750 migrants who were stranded in deserts or held by kidnappers. Based on government statistics, however, it is difficult to know how many of those were truly being held captive or voluntarily resting in safe houses on their journey north.

But there is a dangerous change in all of this today. The business of trafficking migrants — or kidnapping them — is being taken over by drug cartels that have transformed into full-blown organized crime organizations which control almost all illicit operations in growing parts of the country. The state of Tamaulipas, where the 72 migrants were massacred, is considered to be largely under the control of organized crime.

Even if the government wants to protect the migrants it may no longer be able to. In many parts of the country it often can’t protect its own citizens.

Mike O'Connor is a journalist and author who lives in Mexico City and is covering the explosion of violence connected to the drug war along the border. O'Connor has reported in the Middle East, Latin America and the Balkans for the New York Times, CBS News and National Public Radio. He is the author of "Crisis Pursued by Disaster, Followed Closely by Catastrophe: A Memoir of Life on the Run."