A US operation targeting human smugglers does not address the underlying factors driving a wave of Central American child migrants across the US border, and could increase the risks facing these migrants.
US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that “Operation Coyote” — a 90-day operation that began June 23 — had so far resulted in the arrests of 192 individuals and the seizure of $625,000 from 228 US bank accounts allegedly held by human smugglers, also known as “coyotes,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
As part of the operation, which targets the Rio Grande Valley region in Texas, 60 investigators were sent to the cities of San Antonio and Houston.
The authorities have instructed banks to look for suspicious cash deposits made from different US locations into a single account. Officials believe smugglers are using these so-called “funnel accounts” to receive payments from the family members of migrants.
At the state level, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that he would deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, purportedly to “combat the brutal Mexican drug cartels.”
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Since October 2013, nearly 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants — mainly from the Central American “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — have been detained in the United States. Research conducted by one US researcher indicated many of the migrants were fleeing gang violence in the region, while economic and social problems have also been factors in their departure.
In recent months, Northern Triangle governments have also announced strategies targeting human smugglers. El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren said in June that his country would begin targeting coyotes, while Guatemala’s Congress is considering changes to the country’s Migration Law that would establish penalties of up to 12 years in prison for human smugglers.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the US-Mexico Border
However, such measures are unlikely to have a significant impact on the crisis. Although arrests may deter some coyotes from bringing migrants northward, children will undoubtedly continue to make the journey until the root causes of migration, such as gang violence, have been addressed. Given the profits to be made, others will step forward to take the place of migrant smugglers who drop out of the business.
Increasing the pressure on coyotes and stationing more troops at the border may only make the situation more dangerous for child migrants. While there are plenty of cases of human smugglers taking advantage of migrants, one coyote told El Faro that it is in the best interest of smugglers to make sure migrants arrive safely because their business depends on their good reputation. The families of many child migrants pay coyotes with full knowledge of the journey’s risks and the limits of the coyote’s assistance, he pointed out.