The United Nations estimates that human trafficking through the Americas represents a $7 billion per year business for organized criminal groups. They draw this money from the nearly three million people, mostly immigrants from the region moving north to the United States, who relocate every year, paying between $2,000 and $10,000 per trip.
The reasons for these migrations include economic hardship, political persecution, and family ties. These migrants have become vital providers for their families at home. Remittances sent from the United States to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala represent close to ten percent of the GDP of these three countries combined. Organized criminal gangs exploit these vulnerabilities. They extort entire families, sometime several times over several different borders, during one single trip. The gangs also sell their cargo into indentured servitude where they are virtually enslaved until they pay off their “debts.”
The massive trade in humans starts as far south as Argentina and almost always passes through Mexico. The entry points, while often well guarded, rarely change. They include Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. The migrants are often held in “safe-houses” on the U.S. side while relatives or friends pay off the remaining sums demanded by the traffickers. The vast majority – close to 90 percent – are from Mexico. Most of the rest come from Central America. These Central American migrants pay more money and face more obstacles en route, including criminal gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha 13, drug trafficking groups like the Zetas and corrupt police who kidnap and extort them during their journey. Still, the United Nations estimates that many of the migrant smuggling routes are still controlled by smaller, “mom and pop” operations.
Other migrants include Chinese who are trafficked through Latin America, most notably Colombia and the Darien Gap in Panama, on their way to the United States. Wealthier Asians are known to purchase false passports in places like Guatemala and Venezuela, which allow them to transit into European countries like Spain easier. Migrants are often used as mules to carry drugs and other contraband.
- Guatemalans live in fear again as drug gangs move in (Reuters) (crawlnet.wordpress.com)