Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

March 16, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Criminal organizations in Mexico have mounted a lucrative new smuggling operation that uses express buses to deliver Guatemalan migrant families to the U.S. border in a matter of days, making the journey faster, easier and safer, according to U.S. law enforcement reports and U.S. and Guatemalan officials.

The smugglers entice families with promises their journey will be free of the perils usually associated with travel to the U.S. border, along with assurances that by turning themselves in to U.S. authorities they will be released into the country within days.

Recruiters are selling clients in Guatemala on the journey with presentations akin to the benign pitch of a travel agency. They offer a range of price points at different levels of passenger comfort, according to U.S. and Guatemalan officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive details about smuggling networks’ operations.

Customers paying as little as $2,500 are typically made to ride in trucks or stand in cattle cars, while others buying packages for $7,000 or more get premium bus service. Children generally travel free, because those who arrive at the U.S. border with a minor only need to be guided to the edge, not smuggled across it.

Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

The model particularly appeals to families by minimizing some of the more intimidating and unsavory aspects of traditional Mexican smuggling operations, known for cramming migrants into squalid stash houses, where Central Americans are regularly abused and extorted for additional payments. The busing system has skirted those dangers, generating few reports of violence or mistreatment, U.S. officials say.

“With no change to U.S. policy or other factors, such as increasing smuggling fees, Central Americans will arrive at increasing rate,” one report warns.

Within 72 hours of leaving the staging areas, the buses arrive at predetermined drop-off points within walking distance of the U.S. border. Migrant families are clustered into groups that have at times exceeded 300 adults and children, and they walk directly across the border, in some cases stepping over barriers in long, orderly lines. They then surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and initiate asylum claims.

Previously undisclosed details of the smuggling system are outlined in U.S. law enforcement reports reviewed by The Washington Post. The official who shared them did so on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal operations details. They depict an upstart, highly profitable entrepreneurial operation that is designed to exploit dysfunction in the American immigration system and U.S. court rulings that mandate families be released from custody while their asylum claims are processed.

Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

The success of the operation is the most extreme example yet of smugglers’ ability to capitalize on the shift in unauthorized migration to the United States characterized by soaring numbers of adults traveling with children.

By using the direct-bus method, smugglers can eliminate the need for stash houses along the border where they would normally keep migrants under the watch of armed guards before sneaking them across the border. The express routes “minimize overhead and maximize capacity,” according to the U.S. documents, allowing smugglers to reduce “operational costs to a minimum.”

Since October, U.S. border agents have encountered at least 70 large groups of 100 or more migrants, up from 13 such groups during the 2018 fiscal year.
Approximately 12,000 parents and children have arrived in the groups, generating tens of millions of dollars in smuggling fees.

U.S. officials call the system “The Conveyor Belt” and have asked Mexican authorities to help stop it. But the conveyor pattern has continued for months, part of a record-breaking surge in crossings by families that the White House has declared a “humanitarian and border security crisis.” Last month, 40,325 arrived in family groups, up 67 percent from January.

Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

Border arrests peaked at 1.6 million in 2000 and began to decline, falling to 303,000 in 2017, the lowest point in half a century. But Homeland Security officials say they are on pace to encounter nearly one million unauthorized border crossers during the current fiscal year, as arrests reach their highest level in more than a decade.

The influx has left U.S. border security “at a breaking point,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters last week.

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Migrants continue to stream to the border in a variety of ways, with large numbers of Hondurans forming caravan groups and other Central Americans making the trip in smaller clusters and by more conventional means. But describing the express buses to reporters last week, McAleenan said the “shorter smuggling cycle” offered by the smugglers had cut the length of the journey from several weeks to “four to seven days.”

“The availability of these express bus routes means that more young children are arriving at our border, and we are seeing migrants arrive with illness and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers,” he said.

The mass “give-ups” let migrants skip lines at official points of entry, and they can await processing on the U.S. side of the border, where it’s safer.

Massive Smuggling Using Chartered Buses Speeding Immigrants Across Border

The pattern has become so routine that U.S. officials say some large groups form their own queues as they present their documents to agents, as if they were waiting in the arrival hall of an international airport.

“They line up as if it’s some kind of regular immigration process, in single file, like they’re checking in,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pattern. “It’s unbelievable.”

With the swelling arrest numbers, calls for a border wall have intensified. But in recent weeks, large groups have crossed in areas near central El Paso, where tall, modern steel barriers are already in place. Wading through shallow stretches of the Rio Grande, the migrants reach U.S. soil and wait to be taken into custody on the narrow strip of no man’s land between the river and the border fence.

Agents took in 700 migrants in El Paso one night last week, including groups of 252 and 112. Among them was an unaccompanied 2-year-old.

Mary Greeley News

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