Cartels could be earning up to $6 billion a year smuggling migrants into the U.S., official says

Cartels could be earning up to $6 billion a year smuggling migrants into the U.S., official says
AP Photo/Marco Ugarte
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As the migration crisis at the U.S. southern border continues unabated, drug cartels are estimated to have earned up to $6 billion a year — or possibly even more. According to a senior Homeland Security official who spoke to Congress, the staggering number, which is higher than other public estimates, reflects the profitability of human trafficking fuelling the ongoing crisis.

The Washington Times reported on Wednesday that John Condon, acting assistant director of international operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told a Congressional panel that Mexican drug cartels have been achieving record profits through the ongoing crisis.

“U.S.-bound human smuggling and related criminal activities are estimated by the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center to produce revenues of between $2 billion to $6 billion per year,” Condon said to the House Homeland Security Committee’s oversight subcommittee.

Human smugglers, also known as “coyotes,” navigate the terrain in the southern border region and provide passage for illegal border crossers into the United States, most of whom pay for the service and fuel the illegal economy. Analysts estimate that at least three quarters of migrants pay smugglers to go on the journey. 

The Washington Times found that illegal immigrants from Mexico paid anywhere from $3,600 to $18,000 to enter the U.S. in June, with an estimated $8,000 to $9,000 as the average rate. Migrants from Central American countries paid from $4,500 to $30,000, with the average rate between $9,000 to $10,000. 

“That doesn’t include extra cash to pay for food along the way or, in many cases, a final release fee smugglers charge the migrants’ families — which can tack thousands of dollars onto the cost,” the publication noted.

Customs and Border Protection said it encountered 188,829 unauthorized crossings, and, according to law enforcement sources, missed at least another 30,000 crossings. 

Of those caught, about 40% were from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala, slightly more than a third were from Mexico and the remaining quarter were from elsewhere.

Some were repeat-offenders who paid once, got caught, and then tried again on the same original payment.

Using very conservative limits, figuring three-quarters of migrants are paying the typical rates, and even discounting a 38% recidivism rate, migrants would have paid $840 million in June alone.

Experts say this will be a record-breaking year for cartel profits off human smuggling.

According to the Times, human smuggling operations span from beginning in plazas in Central American cities to villages in Pakistan, and the process includes travel agents who arrange routes to Mexico and into the United States.

“Their operations continue with the foot guides who smuggle them through the desert of ferry them across the Rio Grande and end with the stash house operators who house them and the drivers who get them through the Border Patrol’s highway checkpoints and on into the interior of the U.S.,” the publication reported.

Many of the migrants pay up front, so that the cartels profit even if the migrants are captured by law enforcement.

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  • By Ezra Levant

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