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Tuesday 25 June 2024

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: Mexican cartels offer $15,000 VIP border crossing packages to migrants trying to get into the U.S. via tunnels

 Mexican cartels are now offering smuggling packages for migrants, priced between $6,000 and $15,000 per person, for a relatively safer and more reliable crossing via underground tunnels.

The so-called VIP packages used by most transnational criminal organizations exploit a network of storm drains spanning 300 miles. Migrants are given a special code to identify the cartel they have paid, which helps them avoid harassment from local authorities or rival groups as they navigate these clandestine routes.

Many migrants first learn about these VIP packages through social media, using their smartphones to navigate the journey. This tech-savvy approach is part of a broader trend where cartels employ a "guideless group" strategy. This tactic involves sending groups of migrants across the border with GPS-enabled phones pre-programmed with detailed routes to reduce the risk of smugglers being caught and prosecuted. 

"[Cartels are] giving these migrants a phone with a pre-programmed route – it already has a map on there from point A to point B," said Christina Smallwood, a Border Patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley Sector. "Point A being where they will cross, all the way up to point B is what areas to avoid, letting them know if there is a higher number or presence of agents in that area. Then, it leads up to a pickup point, up to what location they have to walk to."

This trend now gives Mexican cartel organizations, an option to choose human trafficking over drug trafficking due to lower risk and higher profitability. 

"Criminals have shifted from their primary business, which was drug trafficking," said Arturo Velasco, the head of the anti-kidnapping unit at the attorney general's office in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. "Now 60 percent to 70 percent of their focus is migrant smuggling."

"A kilo of cocaine might bring in $1,500, but the risk is very high. The cost-benefit of trafficking a person is $10,000, $12,000, $15,000."

Corrupt police and National Guard officers in Mexico also involved in migrant smuggling

Aside from the shift in human trafficking, a complex network of bribery and corruption facilitates the illicit transit of migrants through Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state, relying on the collusion of high-ranking Mexican National Guard (GN), local police and even immigration officials.

According to Velasco, GN officers and immigration authorities often turn over migrants to cartels, with some officials selling migration permits that allow for legal transit through Mexico. Velasco confirmed that municipal police officers kidnap migrants and hold them in safe houses until they pay the agreed amount to the cartel. In some instances, these safe houses are alarmingly close to the homes of police officers.

"We know of federal law enforcement that traffic migrants," Velasco said. "From inside shelters, they, along with officials from the National Institute of Migration, send information on people and then, outside, these people are abducted by criminal groups."

Ju├írez municipal police Chief Cesar Omar Munoz Morales vehemently denied any involvement in these VIP smuggling operations. He even claimed that his department is clean and efficient.

"It's difficult and complicated to address things that are not formally documented," Munoz stated. "We're doing the best we can."

However, Ricardo, a migrant smuggler, confirmed the allegations of Velasco that municipal police are integral to his smuggling operations, including transporting migrants from the safe houses to the tunnels. Ricardo said he pays a police commander nearly $600 per migrant for these services.

"They load people onto their trucks, and they care for them so that another cartel doesn’t abduct them," he explained.

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