We don't care about Trump's wall: immigrant smugglers

Kevin, a human smuggler in Ciudad Juárez, sees the border wall as a new business opportunity
Photo: El Universal/Files
30/01/2017
18:27
LUIS CHAPARRO
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Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua - “We don't give a shit about Trump,” says Kevin. “The wall already exists and it only stops the idiots,” he says laughingly. Kevin is a pollero or Coyote, a smuggler of undocumented immigrants, in Ciudad Juárez. He is 25 years old and has been working as a human smuggler for 5 years, making money from those looking for the “American dream.” He claims that the wall that already exists along the border between Mexico and the United States does not make sense, because it is an obsolete route.

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The human traffickers such as Kevin are smuggling immigrants by international bridges using fake or stolen documents.

In border cities such as Ciudad Juárez, strong surveillance has led undocumented immigrants from southern Mexico or Central America to find new routes to enter the "country of opportunities." Nowadays, the most used route is the most obvious.

"We get you a passport or a green card of someone who looks like you and then we send you to cross the bridge at the peak hour, when there is more traffic," explains Kevin.

Rubén Jáuregui, spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, says that this new illegal way of entering the U.S. is a rising trend. "We are seeing more and more impostors using legal documents. On average, every week we seize 85 fake or altered documents on the bridges between El Paso and Sunland Park, New Mexico.”

He adds that the undocumented immigrants mainly use the so-called laser visa, an identification that allows daily cross-border crossings.

"They try to cross using that identification to stay or work in the U.S., which is not allowed. Those who are discovered lose the document and are returned to Mexico. Those who use fake documents or call themselves U.S. citizens are imprisoned." he explains.

The polleros charge US$150 for the rent of legal documents, a bargain compared to the US$1,500 that other polleros charge for crossing through the desert. "One of us gives you the document, this person follows you until you cross, and once in El Paso you pay us. You return the passport and we return to cross another person. That's how we do it," says Kevin, who mocks President Donald Trump's plan to build a gigantic wall across the border to prevent illegal crossing of people.

“Let him build the wall, we will continue to smuggle people by the bridges, or are he going to close them?," says from a shelter for undocumented people where he finds his clients.

One of his clients is José Antonio, 29, he arrived in Ciudad Juárez from Honduras three days ago. He says he wants to cross to U.S. to find a job and “get out of the shit that happens in Honduras.”

“I don't do it because I like the United States. It's because right now there are no jobs in Honduras and the crime is killing us,” says José Antonio. At first, the idea of crossing the international bridges as undocumented was insane. But he has seen how others have made it.

“I'm going to cross using a fake passport. I actually feel even safer.” he said.

But there are those who actually don't make it. According to statistics released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 75,000 fake documents were seized in 2015, while during the first four months of 2016 were seized 47,000.

“On an average day CBP agents deny entry to 686 non-citizens and 45 criminals who attempt to enter the country illegally. CBP denied entry to more than 334,000 people in 2016," according to information provided by the U.S. agency to EL UNIVERSAL.

In that time, Border Patrol arrests in the U.S. southern border dropped by 28 percent, according to official figures.

Ramiro Cordero, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas, says that the drop in the arrests of undocumented is related to the actions taken by the U.S. agency. However, he admits that immigrants continue to enter the country illegally.

“There are less and fewer people who enter the country through the desert. Regarding the bridges, the only thing I can say is that they will continue to enter.”

Does a virtual barrier work?

The border between Mexico and the United States is guarded by more than 40,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, including Border Patrol.

A report released by the U.S. Congress during Barack Obama's administration showed that over 75 million dollars were spent on border surveillance to create a virtual barrier that is believed to be impenetrable. But there is a gap that all these resources have failed to close: corruption.

Fred Burton, a security analyst for the intelligence firm Stratfor and a former U.S. State Department special agent, knows the subject very well: his job with the U.S. government was to investigate corruption cases at the border and detect the use of false documents or impostors.

Burton says that "corruption is like a porous wall", one that has not been able to rise and which represents the greatest concern for the U.S. government. "Criminals or gangs who illegally cross undocumented immigrants to the United States do not care about the wall, they're going to evade it, following the path of corruption."

In 2016, The New York Times published a review showing that over the last 10 years almost 200 employees and contract workers of the Department of Homeland Security have taken nearly US$15 million in bribes while being paid to protect the nation’s borders and enforce immigration laws.

“The agents have illegally sold green cards and other immigration documents, have entered law enforcement databases and given sensitive information to drug cartels.” The NYT published.

The Center for Investigative Reporting have documented 153 cases of corruption investigations against U.S. border officers, the majority of them members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Texas, California, and Arizona, respectively, had the most incidents.

The barrier - physical and virtual - did not work during the wave of Central Americans who for the past two years have reached the border between the United States and Mexico seeking political asylum, exiled from their countries due to the extreme poverty and insecurity.

Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke said that Central Americans traveling with their family are using another strategy: voluntarily surrender to the border agents.

"No matter how big, thick and horrible President Trump's wall will be, it won't solve the problem of Central Americans who voluntarily surrender to Border Patrol agents," the congressman said.

Trump's wall: a business opportunity

Kevin says Trump's wall, approved just 5 days after he took office, will only bring him more money.

“If he builds the wall, the only thing is going to happen is that we will charge more. People won't stop crossing, never” he says.

Fred Burton agrees with Kevin: "Trump's new administration is going to bring an increase in sophistication and certainly in the prices of smugglers.

Burton warns that border agents will have to be "smarter and more sophisticated" to detect new trends in border crossing.

"CBP says it's almost impossible to falsify a document with biometric properties. The smugglers are not falsifying the document, they are only perfecting the way they superimpose a photo," says Burton.

 

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