Mexican drug cartels control human smuggling across the southern border

On April 9, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing entitled Unprecedented Migration at the U.S. Southern Border: Perspectives from the Frontline. At the hearing, officials from the U.S. Border Patrol, the Customs and Border Protection agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and Health and Human Services testified on the humanitarian and national security crisis at the U.S. southern border.

After opening remarks were heard and questioning of witnesses had begun, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) turned to Rodolfo Karisch, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. The Senator asked the witness to describe the “very organized effort” mounted by the “well-oiled machine” managing and profiting from human smuggling operations at the border with Mexico; following is the response from Rodolfo Karisch.

It's all very well-organized, reaching back into places like Central America … from the brush guides to the people who move individuals up to the border area; from the criminal organizations that are making the tax, we call it a de piso [from derecho de piso, or “usage rights”], down on the southwest border. Gone are the days where you could simply decide that “I'm going to cross in Juarez into El Paso.” Now you're told where to cross, you're charged money, and refusal to pay money has consequences. So very, very orchestrated, I would say that the smuggling of people has even become more lucrative, because it's an endless commodity. On the drug side, if it sees that it's going to be destroyed you've gotta go produce more. They have the abilities to continuously bring more people, also recruiting younger smugglers, juveniles, because they know that the federal government can't prosecute them. It's a lot of money going into this. But the cartels have the ability to shut down bridges, to redirect caravans — that's the type of control that they have on the south end of the border at this time.

Senator Ron Johnson: So you agree to testimony last week, that the southern border is completely controlled, on the south side of the border, on the Mexican side, basically completely controlled … by the drug cartels.

Rodolfo Karisch: Correct.

The U.S. immigration policy incentivizes human smuggling like drug abuse in the U.S. incentivizes trafficking in narcotics

The next question was answered by Timothy Tubbs, Deputy Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations (a component of ICE) in Laredo, Texas. Senator Johnson brought up an observation on the fentanyl crisis made in the opening statement from another witness, Greg Cherundolo, the Chief of Operations at the Office of Global Enforcement of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Greg Cherundolo had testified Because of its low dosage range and potency, one kilogram of fentanyl purchased in China for $3,000 - $5,000 can generate upwards of $1.5 million in revenue on the illicit market.

Senator Ron Johnson asked: That kind of profit motive, if there's a demand, there's going to be a supply for it. Can't we all say almost the exact same thing of human traffickers as well, where we have a system that is incentivizing and rewarding — that can be so easily exploited by a really well-organized effort, people who understand our laws and know exactly how they're working, setting up a transportation system, using buses and other transportation … as long this remains profitable, it's going to continue and probably grow. Isn't every business venture's goal to grow and become more profitable?

HSI Deputy Special Agent Timothy Tubbs responded as follows:

Absolutely so. Again, as we talked before, these huge smuggling organizations are very organized, you have recruiters in the home country, you have transporters in the transit countries, you have the stash houses along the way, individuals are getting them across the border … plus their methods of money remittances, laundering their proceeds as well, and human smuggling has become … almost become to the point [where it's] as profitable as narcotics smuggling.