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Human smuggling on our southwest border; how it works and how illegals find thousands of dollars to pay smugglers

Have you ever wondered how illegal aliens come up with the thousands of dollars required to pay smugglers?

Human smuggling is the illegal importation of people into a country, deliberately evading immigration laws.

“They have no concern for humanity, none; it’s a money business,” said Jack Staton, acting special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security Investigations El Paso, Texas, “they look at people as merchandise, as a way to make money.” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) serves as the leading U.S. law enforcement agency responsible for the fight against human smuggling.

Human smuggling operates as a contract business. An understanding exists among transnational criminal organizations, smugglers and individuals seeking transport, that trying to cross the border independently is not an option.

Smugglers escort the illegal aliens through the desert, across the border, to stash houses and onto their final destinations within the interior of the U.S. A portion of the smuggling fees paid to the transnational criminal organizations helps fuel their other criminal enterprises.

Smugglers move humans in a variety of ways without concern about personal safety or comfort. People are being transported as part of cargo transports, in vehicles, boats, tractor-trailers, box cars on trains, and in automobiles and trucks that are transported on trains as cargo. Smugglers also utilize legitimate transportation options such as commercial buses and flights.

Migrants often pay additional fees for certain types of transportation methods; for example, they may pay extra for transport in a tractor-trailer because the chance of making it across the border is greater than on foot. However, extra fees paid do not guarantee safe transit. If the trip takes place in the summer, temperatures in a truck can easily rise above 100 degrees and the situation can quickly become dangerous.

While smugglers most often transport adult males, ICE reports the number of women, children and family units seeking transport has increased dramatically in recent years. Often, they find themselves at risk for assault and abuse such as rape, beatings, kidnapping and robbery.

Smugglers regularly overcrowd living and sleeping accommodations, and withhold food and water, as evidenced in our recent piece on the 97 illegals found locked in two bedrooms in a Houston home. In addition, individuals who are smuggled may be forced into human trafficking situations upon their arrival in the U.S., or their families may be extorted. Knowing these dangers, the majority of people who travel with a smuggling organization do so voluntarily.

Fees can range from $2,500 to $11,000 or more per person, as part of a network that includes pay offs to government officials, gangs, and drug cartels controlling the routes north. Criminal organizations are involved at every stage of the migration process, from motivating departures to the U.S. and security along smuggling routes, to the mechanisms involved in entering undetected.

So, how do migrants come up with the money to pay the cartels? Some have saved for years for it, but many cannot afford the steep fees and may agree to pay off their debt later.

In an interview with Fox News, former Tucson Border Patrol Chief Roy Villareal, who retired in December after 30 years with the agency said, “A lot of these vulnerable populations use their life savings. Some are essentially indentured servants and they’re working off this debt for a long period of time. In other cases, some of these migrants are asked to transport narcotics or some form of crime to work off a different part of their debt.”

According to Open Borders, some migrants save up for years to finance a journey, as others would have saved for their children’s college or a wedding, so their children can access better opportunities. Some may be financed by family members who are already in the U.S. For immediate family members, it may be a gift, but for more distant relationships, it may be a loan.

Beyond what migrants may pay up front, many are kidnapped, tortured, and held for ransom until they reveal the phone numbers of relatives in the United States, and as mentioned earlier, they may be forced into becoming drug mules. Under these situations, migrants become desperate to enter the U.S. illegally and remain, even if it means being imprisoned on drug charges, for fear of being killed if they are sent home.

Recently, human smugglers have created a sophisticated “inventory system” using colored and numbered wristbands to identify which migrants have paid, and which have not. The individuals are registered and must submit information such as names, addresses and cell phone numbers of family members. This information enables smugglers to threaten those family members with violence or death if the fees are not paid.

While human smuggling involves the service of transporting a person into a country illegally, human trafficking involves exploiting people for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

In order to pay off fees or loans, or prevent harm from coming to their families, migrants may be placed into forced labor, which comes in several forms.

Debt bondage is forced labor that is used as security for the repayment of a debt or other obligation by a person who holds that debt and has some control over the debtor. As payment, traffickers offer individuals the ability to work to pay off that debt. Oftentimes, the migrant is paid low wages and the trafficker adds more to the debt, such as shelter or food. The debt continues to increase due to the added expenses, making it impossible to pay off. Sometimes this debt is passed down to the next generation.

Involuntary domestic servitude is the practice of live-in help that work largely without contracts in unregulated workplaces. The lack of legal protections combined with social isolation and a lack of personal autonomy inherent in live-in domestic service, provides an enabling environment for slavery.

The Human Trafficking Center says, “Creditors may have connections in their debtors’ home countries, which they can use to threaten the debtors’ families to continue work or coerce their families to pay off the debts. For example, some villages in Guatemala have large populations of smugglers who offer passage across the American border for young men. Many families take this chance for better economic prospects in America and the promise of remittances. The families and the debtor are often unaware of the amount of money they will owe for this passage. The creditor may take advantage of this situation by holding the deed to the family house until the debt is paid while exploiting the labor of the migrant. In the Guatemalan example, there is no regulation on this migration debt bondage, therefore debts can end up becoming permanent fixtures.”

According to the 2020 U.S. Department of State Trafficking In Persons Report, Human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Traffickers compel victims to work in a large variety of industries and sectors, and they exploit domestic and foreign national victims in the United States, as well as victims from the United States abroad.

Individuals who entered the United States with and without legal status have been identified as trafficking victims. The victims originate from almost every region of the world, but the top three countries of origin of federally identified victims in FY 2019 were the United States, Mexico, and Honduras.

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