MEXICO CITY — The number of Central American migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States has dropped almost 70 percent over the last five years, the Mexican government said Tuesday.
Immigration Commissioner Salvador Beltran del Rio said the estimate is based on the decline in the number of Central Americans detained for being in Mexico without proper documents. He said there were 433,000 such detentions in 2005 and 140,000 last year.
The downward trend has continued in the first eight months of 2011, added Beltran, who initially revealed the numbers during a Monday conference on migrant issues. Mexico's government released his comments Tuesday.
Beltran said Central Americans crossing Mexico are facing increased risks of extortion, kidnapping and violence because organized crime has moved into migrant trafficking.
In one of the worst attacks, 72 migrants were slaughtered in the northern border state of Tamaulipas by a cell of the Zetas drug cartel in August 2010. Most were Central Americans.
The kidnapping of Central Migrants has been reported for years by migrant rights activists in Mexico.
Beltran said a survey found that most Central Americans who enter Mexico stay less than a month and that six of out every 10 migrants pay a smuggler to sneak across cross into the United States.
Rodolfo Casillas, a professor and Central American migration expert at the Latin American School of Social Sciences in Mexico, disagreed with the figures, arguing that the government is wrong about the flow of migrants.
"What's dropping is the number of people being detained by immigration agents, which is different from the Central American migration flow that goes through Mexico," Casillas said.
He said the number of detentions has been falling because former immigration commissioner Cecilia Romero stopped immigration agents from raiding cargo trains heading north, which is main mode of transportation for Central Americans.
During Romero's 2006-10 tenure, she also ordered that only immigration agents and federal police be allowed to detain migrants after complaints of human rights violations against local and state police officers and soldiers, Casillas said.
"What is worrisome is that the (current) commissioner ... is not being informed correctly by his analysts," Casillas said.
Mexican migration to the United States has also fallen sharply the last five years. Tough economic conditions in the United States and the costs and dangers of crossing the border have deterred migrants, experts say.
Mexico lost about 0.09 percent of its population of 112.7 million people to migration as reflected in quarterly surveys carried out between March 2010 and March 2011 by the National Statistics Institute and released in August.
That was 83 percent lower than the outflow of 0.53 percent of the population in 2006 and early 2007, near the end of Mexico's migration boom.
The most recent national census in 2010 said migration had fallen to about one-third of the peak of about 450,000 Mexicans leaving each year from 2000 through 2005.
Other demographic trends have influenced migration levels. Mexico's population growth has steadily slowed in recent decades, cooling to an increase of about 1.4 percent in 2010 from a peak of about 3.4 percent annually in the 1960s.