Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

Human smugglers roundtable: Yaatsil Guevara

How does raising the costs of human smuggling make it more likely for migrants to fall into the hands of organised crime?

Yaatsil Guevara González
13 April 2017

What are the intended/unintended consequences of anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking policies?

One of the main consequences of anti-smuggling policies is the increasingly clandestine nature of migrants’ journeys. This invisibility exacerbates the risks they face and makes human rights violations more likely. Another consequence is the increased price of crossing packages.

Criminalisation campaigns against coyotes (smugglers) and other border-crossing facilitators have caused them to improvise different strategies of passage, often putting their clients at risk. These include the use of massive safe houses (casas de seguridad) or mass transportation in cattle trucks. Furthermore, the increased fees for border-crossing services have led many migrant persons to decide to attempt the journey alone, which often causes migrants to get caught up in human trafficking or drug cartel networks.

Increased fees for border-crossing services have led many migrant persons to decide to attempt the journey alone.

At the same time, anti-trafficking programmes in Mexico have led some businesses that previously hired irregular migrants on a temporary basis to no longer hire them, making it more difficult for migrants to find provisional work to sustain themselves during their passage through Mexico. Additionally, anti-trafficking policies sometimes generate more restricted and enclosed markets, where victims become more invisible and subject to increased human rights violations, as well as an underreporting of the problems at hand.

Are border fortifications/restrictions a useful or counterproductive response to mass movements of people?

Different behaviours have been observed along Mexico’s southern border regarding the flow of Central American migrants seeking to reach the United States. In general, fortification of the southern border has affected and benefited different actors of the migratory industry.

The benefits mainly accrue to the governmental institutions that receive special budgetary allocations in line with the number of deportations they carry out (National Institute of Migration in Mexico). Other beneficiaries include companies that manage the logistics of migrant deportations, i.e. land and air transport companies, or providers of food to detention centres. These firms obtain vast sums of money around the interdiction and deportation of undocumented migrants in Mexico.

Some migrants have told me that border crossing facilitation (provided by so-called coyotes, guides, trespassers) has become more expensive because of the anti-smuggling policies implemented by the Mexican state. Ironically, border constraints have resulted in many migrants staying in Mexico because their passage has been hindered, mainly in all the border cities in the south. The Mexican government lacks immigration integration policies for people from Central America, and many new problems have arisen as a result of this temporary, precarious settlement.

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