As migrants continue to surge across the United States’ porous southern border, drug cartels are taking advantage of the situation, developing complex networks both to get migrants into the country and to extort money from their families upon arrival.
Authorities arrested and charged at least 5,046 individuals with human smuggling in 2021, according to the New York Times, a figure that nearly doubles 2014’s total of 2,762.
The outlet described a dramatic rise in both the volume and profitability of the industry since just 2018. Homeland Security Investigations estimated that smuggling activity generated $500 million in 2018, but that the industry now rakes in at least $13 billion, a 2600% increase over four years.
Smuggling expert Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, of George Mason University, told the NYT that a migrant attempting to enter the U.S. from Latin America might expect to pay $4,000 for safe passage, while someone from another continent might have to pay up to $20,000 for the same service.
The outlet went on to describe the plethora of humanitarian disasters involved in the trafficking operations. In many instances, traffickers may demand additional money from the families of the border crossers on the threat of torture or death. It also recalled the botched human smuggling episode in late June during which 53 migrants died after their driver abandoned them in the back of a tractor-trailer to die.
Border officials encountered a record number of 240,000 migrants entering the U.S. in May and crossings remain high.