When migrants cross into Mexico through the main southern frontier town of Tapachula – a steamy place with no job opportunities – they soon learn that the only way to cut through the red tape and expedite an sometimes months-long immigration process is to pay someone.

With a huge number of foreigners entering Mexico, a huge network of lawyers, fixers and middlemen has sprung up in the country. At every step, opportunists are on hand to provide documents or advice to migrants who can afford it – and who don’t want to risk their lives packed into a truck for a dangerous border crossing.

Fixers have always done business with people traveling across the country. But the increasing number of migrants over the past year has made the work more prominent and profitable, as has Mexico’s renewed efforts to control migration by speeding up document processing.

The result is a thriving business that often hunts for a population of migrants who are largely poor, desperate and unable to go elsewhere.

Even when migrants purchase travel documents or visas, safe transit is not guaranteed. The papers can be ignored or destroyed by the agency that issued them.

Migrants rarely report dubious practices. Most assume that their payments and time are part of the price of a trip north to the US. Even when corruption is reported, authorities rarely take action, citing a lack of evidence.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has not responded to multiple requests for comment about its anti-corruption efforts, and officials there declined to be interviewed. This month, the agency said it had followed every recommendation made by the Internal Audit Office as part of its commitment to fighting corruption. In previous statements, it has said officials are trying to prevent bribery and corruption by installing surveillance cameras in offices and encouraging people to report concerns.

The lack of accountability has made it easy for fixers to exchange payments and information with officials.

“This will never end because it involves a lot of senior officials who receive a lot of money,” said Monica Vazquez, a public defender from Puebla, in central Mexico.

She and her colleagues think the situation is only getting worse.

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By wy9m6

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