In a phenomenon that has United States border officials scratching their heads, a record wave of immigrants from India have entered the country illegally through Mexico in the past year. Thousands of Indians now take the trip annually, making them the second most common ethnic group of immigrants, after Latinos, to be detained at the border.
According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times published 6 Feb, the trend is showing signs of increasing. In all of 2009, only 99 Indian immigrants were detained along the southwest border. However, in the last three months of 2010, the Border Patrol arrested more than 650 in southern Texas alone.
The immigrants generally make their way to the U.S. through complex networks, called “pipelines,” of human smuggling contacts in Latin America. Although many of them fly into South American countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, most of the chains base their operations in Guatemala. From there, they cross the dangerous border into Mexico, and are led to northern states, where they pay organized criminal groups to help them cross the U.S. border.
Kumar Kibble, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Times that these human smuggling pipelines are a worrisome phenomenon. Because of the proximity of India to Pakistan, the site of anti-American armed organizations, the U.S. is concerned that these networks could be used to carry out attacks on American soil.
“We do want to monitor these pipelines and shut them down, because it is a vulnerability,” said Kibble. “They could either knowingly or unknowingly smuggle people into the U.S. that pose a national security threat.”
Partly because of its role in harboring these networks, Guatemala has launched a series of operations against human smuggling rings in the country. Last November, the Guatemalan daily elPeriodico reported that officials there had arrested a man who provided fake U.S. passports to Indian migrants seeking to head northward.
The man was allegedly part of a network that charged $66,500 to sneak people into the United States or Canada. Police initially discovered the network after encountering a group of Indians in the province of Retalhuleu who said they had escaped from a nearby house where they were being held captive against their will.
This case reflects the complexities of migration and human trafficking. Although the relationship between the potential migrant and the operators of trafficking rings can be one between a client and service provider, it is just as often marked by exploitation and abuse. Instead of assisting migrants, human smugglers frequently undertake mass kidnappings, and have been known to kill one or two from these group as an intimidation tactic, frightening the rest into contacting relatives to meet ransom demands. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, nearly 10,000 migrants are kidnapped a year by gangs in such incidents.