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Old 08-04-19, 16:03   #1
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United States of America Business is BOOMING of People Smuggling into US >Thanks to Trump

The Booming Business for Smuggling People to The US: 'Everyone Wins'

Families – rather than single adults – from Central America are the big growth sector as poverty, violence and Trump’s immigration policy all play a part

Sarah Kinosian in Huehuetenango: The Guardian, 8 APR 2019.

It’s only 7.30am but Daniel is already looking stressed. Every few minutes his mobile buzzes and he steps out of earshot to take another call from a client.

A shipment is being dispatched tomorrow, and he is still learning the basics of logistics. “The business responds to the market, and right now, the boss says the market is families,” he says.

Daniel’s trade is people-smuggling, and business is booming: in the morning, 40 customers will head north, and he still has to make sure the bus is ready, the bribes are paid and the fake documents in order.

Migration to the US from Guatemala and neighboring Honduras has risen to its highest level in a decade: if current rates continue, about 1% of the two countries’ populations will have reached the US by the end of the year.

The total number of migrants reaching the US southern border is significantly down from its peak in the early 2000s. But where once migrants were mostly adult males who sneaked across the desert, now the majority are Central American families who present themselves to US authorities and request asylum.

The number of families has been rising for years, and no single cause explains the current surge: poverty, political turmoil, violence and worsening climate change all play a part.
But Donald Trump’s chaotic attempt to crack down on immigration seem to have also helped trigger a reaction in the highly organized industry bringing people to the US – and inadvertently prompted more families to head north.

“During the Trump administration, the price has increased incredibly for those who go alone or who try to cross the desert, and has gone down for unaccompanied children and parents with children,” said Francisco Simon, a researcher on immigration at the University of San Carlos.

This is not true for every smuggler: Daniel and some other coyotes said the price for families has remained the same, but they confirmed that prices for single adults have risen – and that entire families now account for most of their business.

Parents and children detained at the border have for years been released while their cases were processed, in a practice Trump mocks as “catch and release”.

That policy has long been in place, but in Central America, there is a growing impression that if you bring a child, you are more likely to get in.

This is partly due to Trump. For weeks last year the furore over family separations dominated the news, and drew the attention of smugglers and would-be migrants.

“Something shook up the normal pattern of things. And it seems perception changed because of the policy chaos of the last year,” said Andrew Selee of the Migration Policy Institute.

“Draconian measures such as family separations that the courts then pulled back created a news cycle around the fact that the US government will not hold families for long periods of time.”

As the numbers of families arriving climbs, a system designed for quick deportation of men traveling alone has become overwhelmed, and the US government is releasing people more quickly into the United States.

A cycle has emerged: the more families that come, the more likely they are to be released — and word is getting back to Guatemala.

“It’s never been easier for us to get families in,” said Germán, who recruits clients for smugglers, or coyotes, in the department of Huehuetenango. The shaggy-haired 34-year-old asks to be called “Profe” – a nod to his other job as an elementary school teacher.

Migration is woven into daily life in Huehuetenango, a mountainous region which accounts for the highest percentage of migrants from Guatemala. Across the region’s rocky terrain, dirt-floor shacks stand alongside the multi-storey houses of those who have made it to the US.

There are any number of reasons why people leave: nearly 70% of children under five suffer from malnutrition; 76% of the population lives below the poverty line. Land disputes, drug trafficking and discrimination also plague the lives of the mostly indigenous population. In some areas gang violence and extortion remain a problem.

Increasingly, climate change has become a factor: drought, frosts and unpredictable weather patterns mean that corn, beans, squash and coffee cannot be relied on.

Agustín Marcos, 44, used to be an agricultural laborer, but when corn production plummeted, he moved his family to the regional capital, also called Heuhuetenango. Now, he works as a parking attendant, but he still cannot cover rent, food and school fees.

So he is considering migration.

“We know people who left just last month and are already in the United States and working,” he said.

When Agustín travelled north in 1999 he went alone. This time, he plans to take his 17-year-old daughter.

“On my own, they’ll charge me $11,700, but if I go with her, it’s $5,200 for both of us and it’ll be easier to get in,” he said.

Smugglers see themselves as helping their community. “Everyone wins,” said Germán. “People want to leave, and we help them. And I happen to make money in the process.”

Like any entrepreneurs, the coyotes are acutely aware of shifts in supply, demand and regulation. For Daniel’s network that has meant prices for singles adult traveling from Huehuetenango to the US have roughly doubled in the past two years, and are now up to $10,400 – a reflection of higher bribes for officials and Mexican crime groups along the route.

The most expensive section of the journey is the riskiest: crossing the border. But for migrants who surrender themselves at US ports of entry – as most family groups do – there is less risk, and the price drops.

The economies of scale also apply. Simon’s research has found that in the three departments where most Guatemalan migrants are from – Quiché, Huehuetenango and San Marcos – smugglers’ family rates have halved in recent months. But that is also not universal: Daniel and Germán’s prices for a parent and child have remained steady at around $5,000.

“They reduced the price because more people are travelling by bus. The more people that travel, the cheaper it is because it is less complicated for coyotes,” he explained.

Bus is generally the safest way to cross Mexico, because it depends on bribing officials, rather than skirting checkpoints.

Daniel’s group charged $2,600 a head for the group of 40 travellers – all of whom planned to turn themselves in to US agents at the end of their five-day journey through Mexico.

Up to half of the total goes towards paying off criminal groups and officials in Mexico, he said. Buses typically pay about $2,600 at each of five checkpoints. In the border state of Sonora, they must pay another $20,000 ($500 per person) to organized crime groups.

After deducting food, water, fake documents and other expenses, the remainder is divided between the six members of the smuggling chain and the bus driver. Daniel makes roughly $650 a trip.

El Profe offers a similar package, although he notes that prices can vary widely, depending on safety, comfort, speed – and whether the customer wants to cross the border illegally or claim asylum.

Like a travel agent offering a range of package holidays, El Profe punches his prices into a calculator as he runs through the options.

The premium package costs $11,000 and includes a plane ticket from Guatemala to the Mexican city of Monterrey, a guide through the Chihuahuan desert and a private car waiting in Texas.

For $9,800 you can take a seven-day bus journey to the Rio Grande, with a bus waiting on the other side of the river.

The budget option costs $7,800, with no fake documents, 10 to 20 days walking, and guides who El Profe’s organisation cannot vouch for.

There are even cheaper packages, “but those are where you’re more likely to get robbed by organised crime, kidnapped, raped, or killed for your organs”. He shrugged, and ran his hand through his hair. “We don’t recommend those routes, but we give people their options.”
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