As the apprehension of “family units” on the U.S.-Mexico border has skyrocketed to record levels, unlike the attention-grabbing caravans that have been making their way to Tijuana, the movements of migrants who hire smugglers — and most migrants do — are not tracked by media outlets or in President Trump’s Twitter feed. They slip through Mexico with smugglers, known as coyotes, who bribe cartels and corrupt cops and immigration agents, report the Texas Tribune and Time. The money desperate people are willing to scrape together to come to the U.S. has turned humans into cash cows. The United Nations says the migrant-smuggling industry was worth $5.7 to $7 billion worldwide in 2016. Because the U.S. remains the top destination, the North American market is the crown jewel of the global smuggling trade.
It’s a system that runs on people willing to carve up their meager assets to pay a sophisticated network of smugglers, cartels, stash houses, drivers and lookouts. “It’s like a cake,” a coyote said. “Everyone gets their little piece.” A Honduran, 25, was given a price of $7,000 to cross the Rio Grande and seek asylum but only if he took his little girl and they surrendered to the U.S. Border Patrol on the other side. The coyote makes up to $800 a head on his clients, which can add up to $3,000 every two weeks, a small fortune in Central America. The cheapest option for a migrant is $6,000, for which the coyote will deposit a parent and child on the U.S. side of a South Texas riverbank. They are left to turn themselves in to U.S. officials and claim asylum. The option frees coyotes of the cost of delivering clients to the U.S. interior. Periodic crackdowns on border crossings have driven up the amount the cartel can charge migrants for allowing them safe passage.