Monday, July 20

Where are all those Mexicans getting that much money to be smuggled into the USA?

Yesterday the Associated Press summarized key findings of an eight-month long investigation of "coyotes" by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:  
Three out of every five convicted smugglers are U.S. citizens, according to an analysis by the newspaper of 3,254 federal trafficking convictions during 2013 and 2014 in federal courts in the southern stretches of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.  
The typical coyote is a white American man of Hispanic descent, 34 years old, with little schooling, the Tribune-Review reported Saturday at as it began a weeklong series on human smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Many are unemployed or do the work to pick up extra money.
Those are just the opening paragraphs but the ones that shouted at me pertained to the fees:
The typical American fetches $840 per head unlawfully motoring migrants through Border Patrol checkpoints, where the likelihood of arrest is high, according to court records analyzed by the Tribune-Review.
American drivers ferrying migrants to stash houses or drop-off points far from federal agents earn about $500 less per person, the newspaper reported, while Mexican and Central American drivers garner only about $155.
The fees that fund the underworld economy stem from rapidly improving American border security.
In the wake of Sept. 11, Congress doubled the size of Border Patrol to about 21,000 agents. The agency's growing effectiveness now forces 90 percent of those looking to enter the U.S. illegally to hire smugglers in what has become a multibillion-dollar business, according to the United Nations.
Migrants pay thousands of dollars for the journey, with the price climbing based on the challenges involved. The newspaper said data showed a price of $6,800, for instance, to be smuggled from a Mexican border town to California.
Obviously, if the American coyotes net $840 from a fee of nearly $7K, they're working for crime syndicates which keep the lion's share. But the exchange rate is almost 16 Mexican pesos to the US dollar.

That's a lot of money for most Mexicans -- a lot of cash to pay at one time.  Go back to a Daily Mail report I featured in my Saturday post about Joaquín Guzmán (El Chapo):
The Altiplano prison staff were forced to take a pay cut less than a year ago and now earn "only slightly more than the minimum wage", according to Ms Flores’s brother-in-law, Felipe Valdez.
"The pay cut nearly cut their wages almost in half," he told MailOnline.
The minimum wage in Mexico is 70 pesos (£2.80) per day and, according to Mr Valdez, his sister-in-law "wasn’t earning more than 120 pesos" for the long hours she would work at the maximum-security penitentiary.
The prison staff under discussion are white-collar workers -- they worked in administration until they were forced to work as guards on the day El Chapo escaped.  That means they're literate and educated, with I'd assume at least a high school degree.  Yet that's the pittance they earn in a white-collar job at a federal Mexican agency.

Maybe the benefits are good.  But such workers could scare up USD 7,000 if they wanted to use a coyote to get into the USA illegally?  I find it unlikely.  And go down the scale, to the really poor Mexicans.  It's PREPOSTEROUS that they could get that kind of money together on their own.

I don't know whether the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review delves into the question -- yesterday it published online the entire series of reports about the investigation but I haven't read the series yet.

A likely explanation would be that relatives already living and working in the USA save up the cash to pay the large fee to a coyote.  

But there could be additional explanations as well.  It might be cheaper for some American companies than paying all the costs now associated with U.S. employment to pay the coyote fee to import illegal labor, and bury the expense on the books as a business loss.

Ngos that specialize in helping Mexicans cross illegally into the USA might be paying the coyote fee in some cases.

Or it could be that a sizable percentage of the people paying coyotes exorbitant fees to take them from Mexico to the USA aren't Mexican or any other "Latino" nationality.  The same high fees are routinely paid by people from MENA countries and from other countries to get smuggled into the European Union. There might be more of those cash-laden types coming through the southern U.S. border than are officially counted.

It could be a combination of those factors and ones I haven't considered.  

But one thing is certain.  Ironically, the U.S. crackdown at America's southern border has meant that a lot of money from the relatively simple type of human trafficking  -- smuggling people across a border --  is raked in by crime syndicates.  



David Ronfeldt said...

hi pundita — an illuminating post. it reminds of an idea i tried proposing in the 1980s (but only as a footnote in a monograph about u.s.-mexican immigration issues) for adapting to undocumented/illegal immigration by mexican workers.

my idea was to create a kind of market by selling along the border a to-be-determined number of licenses to work up here for a to-be-determined period of time, say two years. something like a new-york taxi-cab medallion, but for a limited time period. the fee for the license would be about the same as what a smuggler would charge — in the 1980s that was in the hundreds of dollars. the license purchaser would thus be authorized to seek (and be tracked for) work up here. then, if these license holders returned to the border, turned in the documents, and went back to mexico on schedule, they got their fees refunded. if not, our government could keep the fees for use in funding future efforts to catch and return them.

i thought it was a nifty enough idea for a footnote, and still wonder about it today. at the time, as i recall, california’s senator hayakawa mentioned it in a speech that i barely heard about, and he may have also brought it up in another venue or two. but he credited someone else for the idea, and we never made contact. so the idea ended up where most footnotes do, in limbo, and i’ve never pursued it further. however, maybe it’s worth another think. — onward, david

Pundita said...

Hi, David -- I'd definitely say the licensing idea is worth another think. Something has to be done because when fees are in the $7K range, the situation is out of control. I didn't think of it at the time I wrote the post, but probably a big chunk of the fee goes to paying bribes. The AP summary I quoted mentioned that the investigative report "also examined corruption on the U.S. side of the border, finding that most caught taking graft are local authorities, not federal employees."

But the graft payments must now be a very lucrative cottage industry on the US side of the border. Yet as the US gov has cracked down at the border, the risk has increased for American authorities taking bribes. So their price goes up. So then the smuggling syndicates would have to jack up their fees, and so it goes. And I guess that's how it can cost $7K to drive one person a few miles.

Yet all that business is just helping the crooks and doing nothing to solve a problem.

Of course the licensing would cut into the graft profits. So it could meet resistance at the local levels -- and if done at the local levels the licensing could generate its own system of graft. It might have to be done completely at the federal level.