According to a study that was released on Monday, illegal human trafficking of Central American migrants into the United States is an industry that could be worth billions of dollars.
Human traffickers who smuggled migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – netted an estimated $200 million to $2.3 million in revenue in 2017, according to the study.
The study, which was carried out by the RAND Corporation in the interest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), also uncovered that criminal cartels are generally not the ones who directly oversee most of the smuggling. Cartels make their money by charging smugglers a tax for operating in their respective areas of control.
The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation on behalf of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), also found that criminal cartels don’t directly oversee much of the smuggling, though they do profit by charging smugglers a tax for traveling through areas under their control.
In a press release, the study’s lead author, RAND economist Victoria Greenfield, said, “We learned that human smuggling involves many different types of actors and that we could not credibly distinguish most criminal organizations’ activities and revenues from those of other actors, including ad hoc groups and independent operators, that engage in human smuggling.”
She continued, saying, “Actors that engage in human smuggling range from independent operators to ad hoc groups, to loose networks, to more-formally structured networks, such as [transnational criminal organizations].”
Those involved in the study found that because human smuggling networks lack a formal top-down organizational or corporate structure, it makes thwarting their efforts much more difficult.
In the report, authors note, “A key finding of this report is that human smuggling involves many different types of smugglers, or ‘actors,’ with organizations that are often informal and based on relationships instead of well-established hierarchies.”
The authors also suggest that the Department of Homeland Security should concentrate more of its attention on tracking financial transactions to smugglers from inside the United States, mentioning that “many migrants only make their final payment to smugglers after they arrive in the United States.”
“DHS might consider expanding existing efforts to investigate these kinds of payments, including working more closely with formal and informal banking services, to identify suspicious payments. DHS could also consider expanding current efforts to work with foreign law enforcement partners,” the report’s authors added.
“As noted above, to the extent that human-smuggling networks are hierarchical, their leadership is almost always foreign-based. This means that DHS must work with foreign partners to effectively sanction the individuals involved.”
So, no matter how much manpower and resources the United States government throws at this problem, it’s unlikely to be solved unless our partners to the south (i.e. Mexico and Central American governments) take meaningful action to stop illegal immigration and human smuggling as well. Unfortunately, at present, it appears that these governments could care less since most of the individuals who are leaving their countries for the U.S. are financial burdens on their governments.