US-bound migrants riding on a Mexican freight train

Experts say unauthorized migration generates billions of dollars for criminal groups in Latin America, earnings that are set to grow as a result of tightening US immigration policies.

Human smuggling from Latin America into the United States accounts for an estimated $7 billion in revenues for organized crime groups in the region, Felipe de la Torre, an official from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Crónica.

The figure was calculated by taking into account the migratory flows along the US border, as well as the fees charged by the so-called "coyotes" or "polleros," traffickers who help people to enter the United States without authorization.

An estimated 57 percent of undocumented Mexican migrants repatriated by US authorities had relied on traffickers to enter the United States, according to the UNODC. In the case of migrants from other Central American countries, the figure reaches a staggering 70 percent.

Yet the coyotes are only one of several actors that migrants must pay to cross the border. For instance, a report from the International Crisis Group found that some smugglers have been subjugated by local organized crime groups. Coyotes and their clients must pay up to $1,000 in protection fees to these criminal networks; those who fail to pay are kidnapped. 

In addition, a Mexican non-profit organization quoted in the study said that 20 percent of 31,000 migrants surveyed reported "crimes at the hands of authorities, including robbery, extortion, beatings and illegal detentions."

Among the pillars of his campaign, US President Donald Trump vowed to step up the fight against crime in the United States by increasing deportations of undocumented migrants, and building a wall along the border with Mexico.

During the first three months of Trump's presidency, there was an increase in immigration-related arrests and a decrease in deportations compared to the same period last year. The administration's promise to embrace a more heavy-handed approach to undocumented migration has sparked debate over the effectives of stricter border controls.

InSight Crime Analysis

The tougher immigration policies championed by the Trump administration are likely to fortify criminal networks looking to profit from the large numbers of undocumented migrants trying to enter the United States. 

To be sure, criminal groups in Mexico have kidnapped and extorted migrants trying to cross the US border for years. And the number of Central American migrants arrested and deported by Mexican authorities had been increasing before President Trump assumed office.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling

President Trump's promise to step up the fight against undocumented migrants and build a wall along the US-Mexico border is likely to exacerbate these trends, driving more migrants into the hands of organized crime groups based in Mexico, and thus generating even greater revenues for criminal networks seeking to profit from human smuggling and trafficking.

"As patrol operations along the border become tougher, smuggling routes become more dangerous, and migrants have to pay more as a result," de la Torre told Crónica, adding that the $7 billion the UNODC estimates in revenues for organized crime groups may be a conservative figure. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...