Social Issues

Tragedy in Texas reflects surge in migrant trafficking

By Manuel Ayala

Tijuana, Mexico, Jul 2 (EFE).- The deaths earlier this week of 53 migrants in an overheated tractor-trailer in Texas points to an increase in the activity of traffickers, known as “coyotes,” in northern Mexico due at least in part to Washington’s use of Covid-19 as an excuse to keep asylum-seekers out of the United States.

Despite the risks and exorbitant fees demanded by the traffickers, activists in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, say they have seen more and more migrants resorting to coyote during the last two years.

Coyotes are not a new phenomenon, Jose Luis Perez Canchola, a member of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights, told Efe.

What has changed, he said, is the intensification of links between coyotes and organized crime, which has found ways to profit from migration.

Drug cartels are loading contraband onto the vehicles used to transport migrants, as well as levying “tolls” on migrants crossing their respective territories, Perez Canchola said.

Honduran migrant Gloria Zepeda recounted to Efe an episode last December when she, her sisters and their mother were trying to cross into Calexico, California, from Mexicali only to be accosted by armed coyotes on motorcycles.

“They told us the zones belonged to them, that nobody can just come in, because they charge,” Zepeda said. “They told us that just to let us pass they would charge us $100 and there were people they charged $500.”

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) registered a record of more than 1.7 million illegal border crossings in the 2021 fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30.

Since the 2022 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2021, the CBP says that more than 1 million migrants have been intercepted along the US’s southern border.

Mexico, for its part, says it deported more than 114,000 foreigners in 2021, the highest number in nearly 15 years, according to figures from the Migrant Policy Unit.

In the first quarter of 2022, Mexico’s INM migration agency processed 77,626 people, an increase of 89 percent over the same period last year.

Jose Maria Garcia Lara, founder and director of Movimiento Juventud 2000, a migrant shelter in Tijuana, tells Efe that coyotes are demanding as much as $10,000 per person to get people across the border.

“People become desperate and look for someone who can get them across and they find themselves with unscrupulous persons who in many cases bring them to unfortunate ends in which they lose their lives,” he says.

The US and Mexican governments share blame for the current situation in the view of Paulina Olvera Cañez, director of the Tijuana-based cross-border group Espacio Migrante/Migrant Space.

Olvera faults the US for exploitation of Title 42, a provision of the 1944 Public Health Services Law, to summarily deny asylum claims because of the pandemic.

The policy was adopted in 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and though successor Joe Biden had intended to end the practice in May, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the move.

But Mexico is likewise guilty of abuses, Olvera says, pointing out that INM agents “detain people traveling the regular way on buses, they detain them and return them to the south.”

“They close off all the options for orderly migration it is the coyotes and organized crime who win,” the activist says. “Mexico also is responsible for many deaths.”

Perez Canchola agrees, urging Mexican authorities to issue migrants with transit visas and temporary work permits, a measure he said would “take business away from criminal organizations.” EFE ma/dr

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