From motivating the decision to migrate to controlling the smuggling routes, criminal organizations are an inextricable part of the current equation of illegal immigration across the U.S. southern border.

Key points:

  • Criminal organizations are largely responsible for the violence that permeates Mexico and the Northern Triangle and serve as a major motivation for people to leave their homes and migrate north.
  • Most organized crime along smuggling routes to the U.S. resembles that of a governing authority: Criminal organizations control swaths of territory, regulate which routes can be used and when, and tax the smugglers and migrants who want to use them.
  • Transnational criminal organizations also sometimes use migrant crossings to distract and overwhelm U.S. Border Patrol agents ahead of drug shipments.