Drug Cartels Scaring Illegals from Crossing Border

Monday, 20 Jul 2009 01:22 PM

By Dave Eberhart

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Tighter border enforcement has forced narcotics smugglers to share desert routes north with migrants, adding to the perils of the illegals’ journey and perhaps causing a fall in Mexico's emigration, reports the L A Times.

While they once avoided one another, the migrants and the drug-runners are now sharing the same desolate hunks of desert – a very uncomfortable prospect for the migrants, who are often attacked and robbed at night by their daylight travel companions.

"The burreros [drug-runners] sit there together with the migrants during the day and then attack and rob them after they move on at night," Angel de Jesus Pereda, a coordinator for the governmental immigration agency Grupo Beta, told the Times.

Altar in Sonora State is one way station on the journey into the U.S. The town’s economy centers on human smuggling. In the past, some half a million migrants passed through the small town, but the numbers are falling off and Altar is feeling the pinch.

Arrests in the Tucson border area down by about a third, according to U.S. border officials, while the Mexican government reports a 25 percent fall in its emigration rate.

Experts told the Times that the lack of jobs caused by the recession is not the complete explanation for why the emigration figures are dropping. Mexico's drug cartels are now aggressively taxing the coyotes, or human smugglers, and harassing their human cargo on the way north.

With drug smuggling groups stymied by more aggressive border enforcement, the lucrative business of human smuggling (at between $1,300 and $1,800 a head) has become more attractive, U.S. law enforcement officials told the Times.

The residents of Altar don’t need any officials to tell them their fearful client base is disappearing. Once full flophouses now sit empty.

"When we're full, we'll have 100 migrants staying here at a time," said one manager to the Times. “This year, we haven't had more than 40 people in a single day."

A local headhunter added his own sad tale: "Five, 10 years ago, I would bring trucks of migrants into the U.S. through the Papago reservation. I had to pay $100 per truck to the Indians. They didn't ask me any questions. I brought people, marijuana, cocaine . . . It was all the same to them. But you can't do that anymore."

Truck drivers who cart the migrants north related that they must report to the drug cartels how many people will be inside each of the vans. The human smugglers must pay a tariff to the cartels for each person in the cargo – the amount varying according to the migrant's country of origin.

If caught cheating the cartel’s system, the human smugglers are punished violently.

One smuggler told the Times: "I've been doing this for eight years, and it used to be much easier. Today there is more Border Patrol in the area, which makes it harder, and more violence in the desert, which makes it more dangerous. Each year, we have to pay a higher tax to the narcos and be more careful about the routes we move through. You have to be very smart to be a guide these days. You have to know your routes, or you can get killed."

The Times described the evolved structure of operations in towns such as Altar as the cartels serving as the border's executives, the burreros acting as the employees, and the migrants a hapless mix of client and product.

Before tough border control advocates celebrate the diminished numbers of illegals, however, they might consider a report from Forbes.

That report indicates that while numbers of those migrating illegally to the United States has fallen since the start of the recession, fewer undocumented immigrants are returning to their countries of origin.

Forbes spells out three reasons for the dropping number of returnees:

  • Unlike the 2001, 1991-1992 and 1981-82 recessions, the current slide is part of a global economic downturn.

  • Extensive U.S. immigration controls have raised the "cost" of return; illegal migrants know that if they return to the Mexico, migrating back to the United States would be difficult.

  • Drug cartel-related violence and recession in the Mexico makes return there less appealing than it might have been in the past.

    The resulting irony, reports Forbes, is that U.S. tough border policy has backfired to the extent that it has helped ensure that almost all undocumented migrants choose to stay in the United States.

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