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Immigration

Coyotes now guiding higher income, more educated migrants with steep price increases

Many of the migrants traveling with coyotes are selling their homes and belongings, creating dire risks of homelessness if they are deported

People arriving from Guatemala disembark from a raft at "Coyote Pass" in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico.
People arriving from Guatemala disembark from a raft at "Coyote Pass" in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico. | Rebecca Blackwell/AP/Shutterstock

September 14, 2022 10:07am

Updated: September 14, 2022 11:19am

The rates coyotes and smugglers are charging undocumented migrants have increased rapidly in the last 12 years with prices as much as $4,000 to $20,000, depending on the country of origin.

Among undocumented migrants from the Northern Triangle, "primarily, people from Guatemala use coyotes the most and are the ones who pay the highest rates for this services, followed by people from El Salvador, and then Hondurans who pay the least for coyotaje because they are the migrants with the lowest income," Guillermo Alberto Aguilar Solís, Ph.D in Migration Studies, told ADN America from Mexico.

As a result, many of the migrants now traveling with the aid of coyotes are coming from higher income ranges and education. 

Many of the migrants contracting these services sell their houses and belongings in their home country to attain coyote services, creating a dramatic economic risk, if once crossing the border, they are deported and sent back home, Aguilar Solis argues.

Inflation and higher prices for migrants using coyotes

"In the Survey on Migration in the Southern Border of Mexico, it is estimated that the price of a coyote to transit through Mexico alone ranges between 3000 and 4000 dollars," said Aguilar Solis, adding that this is a costly service, and that "not all migrants can afford this type of agreement with a coyote. In addition, these fees also vary according to the type of service provided.”

Taking into account the variations in recent currency exchange rates and inflation, Aguilar Solis estimates that between 2008 and 2019, the average cost of coyote costs have increased by 10%.

"If we take it this way, in a cruder way, without doing this type with conversion to constant prices, the increase would be 15 percent," added the Mexico-based academic.

“Among migrants from Guatemala and El Salvador, the use of coyotes is more common. Around 60 percent of people of those nationalities who were returned by U.S. authorities between 2008 and 2019 hired a coyote to cross Mexico. While those who were returned by Mexico and failed to complete their journey accounted for 5 percent and 10 percent of the total, respectively,” Aguilar said.

In the case of Hondurans, migrants have the lowest proportion of coyote use and lower income therefore in recent years have been seen organizing in caravans. Among those who managed to reach the United States, Honduran nationals accounted for only 30 percent, while those returned by Mexico accounted for 10 percent.

"The coyote service is very broad, it can be from the full service that includes transportation, lodging, food... during the entire journey, or it can be as a simple guide who takes you even on foot moving along several paths; or simply someone who gives you the orientation and does not accompany you," added Aguilar. 

Groups of migrants walk in a caravan, in the city of Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, 05 September 2022.
Groups of migrants walk in a caravan, in the city of Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, 05 September 2022. | Juan Manuel Blanco/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The rates vary according to the country of origin being "people from Guatemala the ones who use coyotes the most and are the ones who pay the highest rates, followed by those from El Salvador, and then Hondurans are the ones who pay the least for coyotaje because it has been seen that they are the migrants who have less income."

Once an underground railroad, coyotes are now advertising on social media and radio

For Guatemalan Andres Perez, 61, coyotes encourage a migration process that has become institutionalized in the region with frequent announcements on social media networks and even on local radio stations. 

"Before it was secret, it was hidden," said Perez who assured that in the past he had communicated with Guatemala's Noti 7, to denounce the impunity with which the coyotes operate but got no response. Perez recalls with sadness the increase in the number of people from Huehuetenango, a city 258 kilometers from Guatemala City, who have died trying to cross the border. 

Migration is not a new phenomenon for Huehuetenango, but it has accelerated in recent years and become much more focused on the United States. 

"I don't know what name to give it, migration or what, but the thing is that Huehuetenango and all the length and breadth of the west already suffered a lot,” he said. It is very unfortunate because the number of people who have suffered is already very high," he said. 

For Perez, the coyotes "are the ones who practically exploit every last resource we poor people have. They manipulate and deceive everyone and that is why they convince people to migrate, but the great sadness for us is that it has increased the number of dead, missing, kidnapped, murdered, and burned all the way out of their homes to enter the door of the U.S."

The economic prosperity of many coyotes is well known in Guatemala, since crossing a migrant could cost 140,000 quetzales, approximately $17,000. 

"For example, 85 people recently left for a coyote, 85 people!" Perez said. "How much did he charge each one? 140,000 quetzales. You do the math on how much it costs for 85 people, and you say that all 85 people were charged. So they have made millions, and they build incredible houses! Each coyote has 10, 15, 20 houses… Is it in their name? No! [They are in the names of] their relatives, uncles, cousins, girlfriends, and landladies. A lot of them are looking for ways [to conceal their ownership.] It is a mess what the coyotes have done. It is a fatal life. We have no way out."

Drug cartels now engaging in human, labor, and sex trafficking to increase profits

The problem of human trafficking is worsening in the region, as drug traffickers are smuggling unauthorized migrants to diversify their sources of income. 

Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), such as the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and the Knights Templar, "have expanded their repertoire of illegal revenue-generating activities to include extortion, migrant smuggling and human trafficking for labor, sexual exploitation and removal of body organs," according to research by Dr. Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. 

In the region, the massive forced displacement of Central Americans fleeing violence and extreme poverty significantly increases the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking.

Cases of sex and labor trafficking along migration routes in eastern Mexico-involving Mexican drug cartels and other criminal groups-are intimately linked to migrant smuggling. 

In May 2018, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that smuggling operations are "lining the pockets of transnational criminal organizations," and estimated that the cartels make $500 million a year from smuggling migrants into the United States.

In the last year, federal agents have engaged in operations almost daily at safe houses containing dozens of migrants.

For Solis, the efforts of Mexico's immigration policy to stop the flow of migrants have an impact on the fact that migrants, in order to reach the United States, opt for hiring coyotes as a strategy to "achieve their migratory objective of reaching the United States". Among Latin American migrants, Venezuelans and Cubans are the ones who pay the highest costs for the services of a coyote, according to research shared by Aguilar with ADN America.

"They hire the Coyote to avoid these migratory controls, and also as a way to evade the risks or possible abuses… both by police authorities and organized crime that exists in Mexico," he said.

A tragic end for some migrants traveling with coyotes

Still, a migrant's journey to cross the border often has a violent and sudden end. In June of this year, U.S. authorities found in San Antonio, Texas a trail of trapped migrants in which 51 migrants seeking to reach the United States died. 

"The use of this service to transit through Mexico is worrying because although it increases the chances of reaching the United States, not all coyotes provide this service in an ethical manner and expose migrants to great risks to their lives, as they often travel in overcrowded trailers, which poses risks to their physical integrity," adds Solis. 

While migrants have generally faced kidnappings and extortion in Mexican border cities, these episodes have increased on the U.S. side, according to federal authorities. In 2016, a 45-year-old man, Eduardo Rocha, was sentenced to life in prison in the U.S. for his role as a leader in a human smuggling organization that tortured victims while they awaited ransom payments.

In 2021 alone, more than 5,046 people were arrested and charged for human smuggling, up from 2,762 in 2014, and in the last year, federal agents have conducted almost daily raids on safe houses housing dozens of migrants.

With one month to go in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have been 748 confirmed deaths of people crossing the southern border, a striking increase from the 557 deaths recorded in 2021, as crossings have skyrocketed in the past year, DHS officials have told CNN.

Indeed, undocumented arrivals into the U.S. via the southern border increased to historic numbers in 2022, according to Border Patrol Service (CBP) data. 

So far this year CBP documented a total of 2,242,413 individual encounters, compared to 1,956,519 documented during all of 2021. In the month of July alone, there were 162,792 encounters with irregular immigrants nationwide, a one percent increase in the number of unique encounters over the previous month.