People smugglers making Mexico migration routes into lucrative business
By Juan Carlos Espinosa
Mexico City, Dec 22 (EFE).- Organized crime has taken advantage of the migration crisis in Mexico to make a lucrative business out of people trafficking, bringing in $3 billion to $5 billion per year, according to migration and drug trafficking experts’ estimates.
The Dec. 9 tragedy in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas when 56 migrants died when the truck they were riding in flipped over has highlighted the situation with “the trafficking of people by organized crime, a problem that has not received attention,” Gabriela de la Paz, a professor with the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, told EFE.
Very little is known about the groups who are making money off the migrant waves moving northwards through Mexico, “but there are clues” that indicate that high-capacity smuggling machinery is in place throughout Mexican territory and in Central America, Samantha Perez, an expert on organized crime and drug policy, said.
Among these “clues” is the shadow of the big drug cartels in the illicit business, and they have staged massacres of migrants like the one last January in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where 19 badly burned bodies were found, most of them evidently Guatemalans.
Cartels like Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have already been under the magnifying glass of the federal Prosecutor’s Office in Mexico in recent years for kidnapping and murdering migrants in the northeast and reports of the release of Central Americans being held in safe houses by organized crime are becoming ever more common.
“Before, the migrants paid an amount to the ‘coyote’ (a person specializing in getting people into the US illegally), but now that money (merely) represents a right to cross through controlled territory,” Perez told EFE.
In 2012, the average cost to cross Mexico en route to the US didn’t exceed $3,000 but the price has shot up and now stands at more than $15,000.
The most conservative estimates are that about 30,000 people each month try to cross Mexico to get to the US and the criminal groups involved in that trafficking pull in some $5 billion each year from their operations.
The exponential increase in the charges for migrants is due in part to the Mexican military presence along the border, which forces migrants to seek new routes, as well as the increasing strength of the criminal groups themselves over the past decade.
Pressure by then-US President Donald Trump between 2017 and 2021 to apply tariffs on Mexican products spurred the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to stiffen its migration policy with huge police operations to stem the flow of people entering Mexico across its southern border.
“Indirectly, that opened up the need to transit under more complicated conditions,” said Tonatiuh Guillen, the 2018-2019 commissioner for the National Immigration Institute (INM) but who resigned after the government decision to task the Mexican National Guard, an armed force set up to engage in various security functions, with halting the caravans of Central Americans and Haitians.
Guillen said that the Chiapas accident is a “fantastic descriptor” of the scenario that Mexico has been facing with the recent migrant waves, since it mixes “the great operational capacity” of organized crime with “the complicity” of the authorities.
Hours after the incident, the Mexican press emphasized how the truck that flipped had passed through an INM checkpoint, a situation that, in Guillen’s opinion, makes clear that “the problem of corruption” within the institute “has not been resolved.”
De la Paz and Guillen agreed that the Mexican government should act immediately to dismantle the migrant trafficking networks, a task that is linked to the fight against organized crime, in general.
“When have we seen Mexico dismantle one of these people trafficking networks? This has become a billion dollar business that hasn’t had any opposition,” De la Paz said.
At the recent North American Leaders’ Summit among the US, Canada and Mexico, authorities agreed to address people smuggling as a regional problem, but this has not translated into policies to deal with the most critical migration policy in Mexico’s history.