By In Sight. Smuggling migrants into the U.S. from Mexico is now more profitable than smuggling drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The pull of profits has attracted the country’s criminal groups, making the journey north increasingly dangerous for illegal migrants.
The big money that can be made in human trafficking has dark implications for those trafficked. A reminder of just how dark is given by news that Salvadoran police arrested the alleged head of a ring which smuggled some of the 72 people later found dead in a pit in northern Mexico.
The bodies were discovered in August 2010 on a ranch in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. The dead were thought to have traveled up from various South and Central American countries before being kidnapped, likely by the Zetas Cartel.
Mexican authorities said the Zetas probably tried to extort the migrants and force them to work for the cartel, perhaps as hitmen, gunning them down when they refused.
The detainee, Carlos Ernesto Teos Parada, is not suspected of being involved in the massacre, but was allegedly part of a group which charged the individuals about $6,000 for the journey to the U.S.
This kind of fee is not unusual; of the more than three million Latin American migrants smuggled into the United States each year, the UNODC reports, approximately 90 percent pay smugglers. Most of the individuals pay between $2,000 and $10,000 per trip.
These high fees help to explain the latest estimates that humans are a more profitable cargo than drugs; as the executive secretary of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission stated last year, “It is much more profitable to sell a person than to sell cocaine.”
The UNODC estimates that trafficking of Latin Americans into the U.S., mostly over the Mexican border, earnt criminal organizations $6.6 billion a year.
As well as a source of profit for trafficking organizations, the migrants also represent an easy prey. A report by the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights (Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos – CNDH) indicated that more than 11,300 immigrants were abducted by criminal organizations in Mexico last year. These individuals and their families face extortion, and may be force to remain servitude until their “debts” are paid off.
The UNODC says that most trafficked migrants are transported by trucks, and are kept in “stash houses” where smugglers hold them until they pay for the traffickers’ services.
As InSight has noted, part of the reason that human smuggling has become so profitable in recent years is due to U.S. moves to tighten border security, including the erection of 700 miles of fence along the southwest part of the frontier. This forces migrants to use less accessible routes which go through rougher terrain, meaning that they need to pay guides to take them there.
As well as the lure of profits, another reason for criminal organizations moving into human trafficking is Mexican and U.S. efforts to curb drug trafficking. Since 2006 Mexico’s government has been leading a U.S.-backed crackdown on drug syndicates in the country, resulting in the capture or death of many cartel members. Human trafficking presents a lower-profile, lower-risk source of income for organized crime.
And with an endless supply of desperate individuals willing to pay thousands of dollars to enter the U.S., migrants present drug traffickers with a big opportunity to make a profit with little chance of redress for any abuse committed along the way. As the Human Rights Commission report notes, “The highly vulnerable situation which migrants face is extreme.”