Human smuggling is a high-risk, often high-yield business, with migrants in Latin America paying $5,000-$10,000 each for the long, illegal journey in the care of smugglers.
Smugglers, known as “coyotes,” say they must pay off officials, gangs operating on trains and drug cartels controlling the routes north.
Judging by the dramatic increase in the number of minors apprehended in the United States in recent months, it seems the human smuggling business from Central America is booming.
The exact profit is hard to calculate. One expert puts it at $3,500 to $4,000 per migrant if the journey goes as planned. Smuggling organizations may move from dozens to hundreds of migrants at a time.
The surge in unaccompanied minors and women with children migrating from Central America has put new attention on decades-old smuggling organizations.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors, the vast majority from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, were apprehended at the U.S. border from October to June, according to the Border Patrol. That’s more than double the same period last year.
The smugglers are profiting from the rising violence in gang-ridden cities of Central America, and the yearning of families to be reunited; parents often head north to find work and save money to send for their children, sometimes years later.
Migration experts and smugglers who charge from $5,000 to $10,000 to move Central Americans to the U.S. say these are the payments that must be made to get their human cargo to its destination:
— Boatmen at Mexico’s southern border: $1.50 to cross Suchiate River from Guatemala.
— Lodging: $11.50 a room, which can hold many migrants.
— Central American gang: At least $100 per migrant to board Mexican freight train known as “La Bestia” The Beast).
— Mexican police and immigration officials: $230 to $540 to pass; $25 to $40 a person to free detained migrant.
— Drug cartels: $250 to $300 for Mexican migrant, $500 to $700 for Central American, about $1,500 for someone from Europe or Asia, plus 10 percent flat fee per smuggler to cross northern Mexico to U.S. border.
— Boatmen at Mexico’s northern border: $100 per immigrant to cross Rio Grande into U.S.
— Drivers: $150 for ride from Rio Grande to stash house; $200 for ride north of Border Patrol’s highway checkpoint to Houston.
— Caretaker at stash house: $20 per person per day.