Study: Smugglers Earned as Much as $2.3 Billion Helping Migrants Cross Border in 2017

Migrants from Honduras walk next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, December 26, 2018. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Smugglers pulled in anywhere from $200 million to $2.3 billion in 2017 in payments from migrants they helped enter the country illegally, according to a new study commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security.

Migrants pay from just under $4000 to over $11,000 each in smuggling fees, depending on the amount of help they request and whether it includes transit all the way from their home country and actual passage across the U.S. border, according to the study, Human Smuggling and Associated Revenues, produced by the Rand Corporation for DHS. “The wide range reflects uncertainty about the number of migrants that travel northward, their use of smugglers and the fees they pay,” the report said.

Meanwhile, drug lords charge traffickers another $30 million to $180 million annually to use their routes.

Somewhere around two-thirds of migrants who make the journey pay a smuggler to help them get across the U.S. border, the report estimated. Smugglers have also started offering packages “that reduce exposure to risks and do not require extensive physical activity, such as scaling walls or extended hikes through remote terrain,” catering to those for whom the journey is more difficult, such as pregnant women, seniors, and minors.

Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) play a role in smuggling migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, but smaller criminal operators and looser networks also exist in the market, the study found.

“The diversity and proliferation of individuals and groups involved in some aspect of human smuggling make it challenging to identify the extent to which these activities are conducted by actual TCOs,” the report said.

Arrests at the southwest border increased for the fourth straight month in May as authorities continued to grapple with an unprecedented influx of migrants from Central America. 132,887 people were arrested between ports of entry last month, up from 99,304 migrants in April, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection released Wednesday.

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