Mexican Agency to Offer Life Insurance for Migrants on the Perilous Journey North

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Eugenio del Bosque

Guerrero is a small state on the southwestern coast of Mexico where tourists travel each year to stay at popular beach resorts in Acapulco and Ixtapa. But the trip for migrants leaving Guerrero for the United States is anything but luxurious, often involving organized crime gangs, treacherous railways and the threat of kidnappings.

Guerrero’s newly created Office of the Secretary of Migrants and International Issues says it wants to help migrants. The state agency will offer life insurance policies for migrants making their way to the United States. The office is in talks with two banks to consider possible options and is planning to offer coverage for 500 migrants for one year in the pilot program.

“I think we as a government have an obligation to pay attention to the flow and transit of our citizens,” Netzahualcóyotl Bustamante Santín, Secretary of Migrants and International Issues, says. “We want them to make whatever decision they will, but know that they can count on their government and that their government can support them in case of any contingency.”

Bustamante says the office is not promoting migration – it’s the state’s youngest working-age people who are migrating – but that they can’t stop their people from leaving the country. The life insurance policy will also cover policyholders while they live in the United States, providing their families with peace of mind.

Other Mexican states offer life insurance policies for Mexican immigrants already living in the United States. Banorte, one of the country’s leading banks based in Monterrey, started offering such a policy in 2009 to people from the state of Zacatecas, eventually expanding coverage to other states.

According to a 2010 study by the Multilateral Investment Fund, Banorte had already sold more than 16,000 life insurance and repatriation policies to families in Mexico for relatives living in the United States.

The state of Guerrero currently offers repatriation services for citizens living in the United States. The nearest Mexican consulate covers the cost of transporting the body to the airport in Mexico City, and the Office of the Secretary of Migrant and International Issues then pays to deliver the body back to the family in their city of origin.

“But we don’t want to bring Guerrerenses in a coffin, we want an office to protect migrants from Guerrero,” Bustamante says. “We want to call this program, ‘Migrantes, te acompañamos en el camino’ [‘Migrants, we are with you on the way’].”

Under the proposed plan, Guerrero natives would stop by the Migrant and International Issues’ office and provide only their name and municipality to obtain the insurance. They would then be urged to keep in contact and let the office know they made it safely to their destination.

But despite the eruption of violence in Mexico and the increase in danger for migrants traveling across the country, Bustamante says the life insurance initiative has nothing to do with that. He acknowledges the violence and the new risks involved in making the trip, but says this policy was born out of a desire to protect migrants by the 3-month-old office and not because of the increase in violence.

In Mexico, the office’s proposal, which was first announced in August during a radio interview is receiving mixed responses.

Bustamante says various migrant groups have welcomed the insurance, but he has also drawn fire from critics in Mexico who think he is encouraging migration.

“We don’t encourage or promote migration,” he says. “We want them to remain in our state, to work in our state and to have opportunities. But we also can’t stop people from migrating. Migration is a right; we don’t consider it a crime. And if people decide to migrate, we believe it is the task, the duty of the government to protect its citizens.”

Priscila Mosqueda is a contributing writer at the Observer, where she previously interned. She grew up in San Antonio and graduated with a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. Her work has appeared in InsideClimate News, The Center for Public Integrity, The Daily Beast, and various Central Texas outlets.