Mi­grants pay bil­lions each year in fees to smug­glers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Dar­lyn Jo­sue Mass-Mon­tene­gro paid $13,000 to be smug­gled from Hon­duras to Los An­ge­les, dol­ing out big pay­ments for every leg of the jour­ney.

His first $3,000 went to smug­glers in Hon­duras, then he paid $1,500 more in south­ern Mex­ico, $2,000 in north­ern Mex­ico and $1,500 to the stash house op­er­a­tor who kept him holed up at a car wash near McAllen, Texas.

He was pay­ing $2,000 to be packed in the back of a truck haul­ing wa­ter­mel­ons and driven through the Fal­fur­rias Bor­der Pa­trol check­point en route to Hous­ton. He owed a fi­nal $3,000 once he was in Los An­ge­les.

He never made it, get­ting snared, along with 22 other il­le­gal im­mi­grants amid the wa­ter­mel­ons. But the thou­sands he had al­ready paid was free and clear for the smug­glers who got him that far.

The story is re­peated hun­dreds of thou­sands of times over, both for those who get caught and for those whom the Bor­der Pa­trol never de­tects. As their num­bers grow, they line the pock­ets of some of the world’s most dan­ger­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions, Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment au­thor­i­ties say.

The Rand Corp. re­leased a re­port last week putting a dol­lar amount on at least some of that traf­fic. It es­ti­mates that Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants paid as much as $2.3 bil­lion to be smug­gled into the U.S. in 2017.

At the same time, Rand said, the car­tels’ take could be as low as $200 mil­lion.

Rand made its cal­cu­la­tions based on high and low es­ti­mates for mi­grants’ pay­ments and then cal­cu­la­tions of how many peo­ple ac­tu­ally made the jour­ney. They lim­ited their study to those from the North­ern Tri­an­gle: the coun­tries of Guatemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador.

Rand iden­ti­fied four types of op­er­a­tors in the hu­man smug­gling trade, rang­ing from in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors who of­fer their own ser­vices such as driv­ing or guid­ing, all the way to for­mal net­works run by a sin­gle king­pin who can mo­nop­o­lize a route of traf­fic.

The for­mal net­works, the or­ga­nized smug­gling car­tels, are the most no­to­ri­ous. Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say those car­tels either op­er­ate in co­or­di­na­tion with, or are the same as, drug smug­gling or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Yet Rand said it’s likely the less-for­mal net­works and in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors are the ones mak­ing the most money from hu­man smug­gling.

“We learned that hu­man smug­gling in­volves many dif­fer­ent types of ac­tors and that we could not cred­i­bly dis­tin­guish most crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions’ ac­tiv­i­ties and rev­enues from those of other ac­tors, in­clud­ing ad hoc groups and in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors, that en­gage in hu­man smug­gling,” said Vic­to­ria Greenfield, the re­port’s lead au­thor. “At best, we could pro­vide a broad range for the rev­enues to all types of hu­man smug­glers.”

Rand said one pot of money from smug­gling routes al­most cer­tainly ended up in the drug car­tels’ hands: The “piso,” or tax, was paid to use the car­tels’ routes across the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. The tax gen­er­ally ranged from $300 to $700, Rand said.

North­ern Tri­an­gle coun­try mi­grants paid $30 mil­lion to $180 mil­lion in pisos in 2017, re­searchers es­ti­mate.

Rand’s re­search was spon­sored by Home­land Se­cu­rity.

The num­bers Rand used are 2 years old and cover a time when mi­gra­tion plum­meted af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice.

Those num­bers have since surged to lev­els not seen in more than a decade. The cost of tran­sit­ing also has soared.

The Washington Times has found that the tax paid to car­tels — what the mi­grants also re­fer to as the “mafia fee” — has grown, with a $1,000 pay­ment com­mon.

Costs, how­ever, vary dra­mat­i­cally, according to data The Times com­piled over the past year from court doc­u­ments in thou­sands of bor­der smug­gling cases.

For ex­am­ple, a truck caught at a Bor­der Pa­trol check­point in Texas on April 11 had one Hon­duran mi­grant pay­ing $11,000, an Ecuado­rian pay­ing $9,000 and a Mex­i­can who paid only $1,200 — a $200 cross­ing fee and $1,000 for the truck ride to Hous­ton.

In Cal­i­for­nia, Mex­i­cans snared in four ve­hi­cles at the same bor­der cross­ing on the same day paid $3,000, $5,000, $7,000 and $15,000 for their trips.

Over­all, Cen­tral Amer­i­cans say they pay more than Mex­i­cans, and rates rise fur­ther for those from South Amer­ica. Mi­grants from Brazil can ex­pect to pay in the neigh­bor­hood of $20,000 for their trip.

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