Drug cartels in Mexico have hijacked the multimillion dollar human-trafficking business on the U.S. border and are funneling thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America into the country, causing a humanitarian crisis in southwestern states, The Daily Beast reported.
The drug gangs are using scores of illegal underage immigrants as "bait" for overwhelmed Border Patrol agents to capture while nearby they are smuggling marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine across the border, the website said.
A military crackdown on drug traffickers in Mexico launched by President Felipe Calderon has forced the cartels, including Los Zetas, Sinaloa, and Knights of Templar, to move south and recruit gang members in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, who terrorize residents and create criminal chaos in the three impoverished countries where corruption is rampant.
In 2011, Guatemala's murder rate was double that of Mexico while Honduras and El Salvador have had the world's highest and second highest murder rates since the mid-1990s. Thousands of people from these nations decide to take a risk and join the surge of illegals attempting to enter the United States, rather than stay and live in fear and poverty.
The cartels used to work alongside human smugglers, known as coyotes. But in the past decade they have taken over the business, turning it into a sophisticated human-trafficking network while also continuing to smuggle in drugs, with border agents too busy catching crossing cheats to concentrate on nabbing drug mules.
The price of an illegal one-way ticket to the United States costs between $3,000 and $6,000, with hard-up family members in America sometimes transferring payments by wire on a monthly plan.
Migrants from Central America often ride on top of trains and buses from southern Mexico to border towns, an arduous journey where they will also face robbery, rape, and beatings at the hands of vicious drug and human traffickers, according to The Daily Beast.
They also have to hand over crippling fees along the way, and if they cannot afford them, they can be killed on the spot, kidnapped until their family pays a ransom, or used to carry backpacks filled with marijuana, the website said. Los Zetas leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales was captured in Mexico and charged with ordering the kidnapping and murder of 265 migrants, according to the Beast.
After the Department of Homeland Security took control of securing the country's borders following 9/11, the southwest border has been turned into a quasi-militarized zone with around 700 miles of steel fencing and some 21,000 border agents, the report noted.
While illegal immigration by Mexicans has been largely curtailed in recent years, the cartels are now making migrants from Central America take longer, harsher trips into the desert to find a way across the international line.
The undocumented aliens face days of scorching heat and rugged terrain along with rattlesnakes and yellow jackets, while struggling to survive with barely enough food and water. And the coyote traffickers will leave someone behind to die in the desert rather than risk slowing down the entire group. Hundreds are listed as succumbing each year under the searing sun.
But despite their ordeal, the migrants are drawn by the incentive of living the good life in America, especially teenage children. A loophole in the George W. Bush administration policy sends Mexican minors back over the border immediately while kids from other countries have to be held by U.S. officials for three days before being turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which hands them to relatives until their deportation cases can be hard.
Many of them are never seen again, becoming part of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country.
Arizona Border Patrol spokesman Peter Bidegain said some of these unsuspecting immigrant children are deliberately led up ladders over the border fence so that the Border Patrol agents have to round them up while smugglers, watching their every move, can sneak through cars and trucks loaded with drugs at crossing points.
"A lot of times the people who are being smuggled here are just being used as bait," Bidegain told the Beast. "They will use what's successful, so they'll try anything. It just depends on the smuggling du jour."
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