In January, police in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas found 19 charred corpses in two burned-out vehicles. The initial investigation showed they had been shot first, then set aflame. They were migrants, many from Central America, on their way to Texas.
One of them was Marvin Alberto Tomás — “Lefty” to his friends. He left his family in Guatemala to seek work. He found only death; now, a dozen Mexican police officers (some trained in the United States) have been arrested for their involvement in the massacre.
The fate of Marvin and the others was horrific, but not uncommon. Organized crime involving even the police is an integral part of the worsening immigration crisis. Criminal organizations are involved at every stage of the migration process, from motivating migrant departures for the United States to security along human smuggling routes through Mexico, to the mechanisms for entering the United States undetected.
There are two kinds of criminal groups at work here — transnational gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The brutal violence and unchecked extortion perpetrated by transnational gangs in the Northern Triangle (the nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala), targeting both civilian populations and rival gang members, motivate Central Americans to uproot their lives and families in the hope of a better, safer life in America.
Transnational criminal organizations control, regulate, and tax every land port along the southern border. They also control smuggling routes through Mexico and impose a tax, called a piso, on the smugglers and migrants who use them. These groups control the flow of migrant caravans, strategically diverting Border Patrol resources from sectors of the border that are used to smuggle illegal drugs into the United States.
For those who choose to leave the Northern Triangle for a better life in America, the escape from territory controlled by transnational gangs leads them into territory controlled by the transnational criminal organizations.
In most cases, they use coyotes — human smugglers and traffickers who charge them thousands of dollars. Human smugglers range from independent operators and loose networks to subsidiaries of the transnational criminal organizations themselves.
Beyond what migrants pay up front, as the Associated Press reports, many are kidnapped and tortured “until they reveal the phone numbers of relatives in the United States and holding them for ransom.”
If they can’t pay — or if their families can’t — they’re killed. As one analyst points out, “It’s a long trail of extortions, and it’s a very dangerous journey for all of them.”
The groups also sometimes use migrants as drug mules. They will coerce migrants traveling through their territory into carrying large bags, or mochilas, filled with illegal drugs. Not only does this perpetuate the stream of narcotics into the U.S., it also victimizes migrants, making them desperate to unlawfully enter and remain in the U.S. — even if imprisoned on drug charges — for fear of being killed if they are sent home.
The bottom line is that throwing open our borders — as President Biden has effectively done — only serves to empower these transnational criminal enterprises. His immigration policies aren’t humanitarian; they’re creating more victims.
Our best course of action is to continue bolstering border security and reform existing immigration law in order to de-incentivize illegal crossings. Specifically, larger numbers of Border Patrol officers would prevent these criminal groups from successfully moving illegal drugs across with the distraction of human smuggling groups. Better technology would enable agents to locate tunnels used to move illegal aliens and illegal drugs.
Finally, a concerted effort to improve the criminal justice systems and build the economies in the Northern Triangle countries would likewise provide a disincentive to illegal migration into the U.S.