THE BLOG

Human Smuggling "Crackdown" a Drop in an Ocean of Policy Failure

07/30/2014 03:54 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

On Tuesday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that they had arrested 192 human smugglers and seized US$625,000 in illicit profits from the smuggling business on the Texas-Mexico border. This tactic is part of efforts to curb immigration to the United States, in the wake of the child-migrant crisis, which has further polarized rhetoric about immigration and prevented any productive response.

For the DHS to brag about capturing human traffickers is hypocritical at best. It is the United States' own prohibitive migration policies and complicity in exacerbating the effects of the drug war that have resulted in the upsurge of human trafficking. This "crackdown" barely addresses this problem, and will do nothing to change the inhumane legal immigration process. Coupled with the vicious drug war, this process forces thousands of people to cross the border in life-threatening, criminal conditions.

The practice of using coyotes, or paid traffickers, to help migrants cross the border under the radar has always been part of the shadowy world of illegal immigration. In recent years, though, the practice has surged, due to tighter border security and growing control of key routes by drug cartels. Immigration patterns have repeatedly demonstrated that restrictions at the border will not lead to substantially less immigration. Rather, more immigrants will resort to more illicit and dangerous means to cross the border.

According to a 2010 UN report, the human smuggling business makes $6.6 billion a year. Migrants pay anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per person to be guided by a coyote across the border, which often involves paying off government officials, drug-cartel leaders, and gang members. Considering the 57,000 children alone who have been detained after being caught migrating to the United States from Latin-American countries in the past year, the arrest of 192 coyotes is negligible. Moreover, this "crackdown" has only accounted for 0.009 percent of the estimated earnings of the business.

Clearly, the State Department's arrests of fewer than 200 coyotes will not have a large impact on whether or not illegal immigration continues. International rights groups, policy analysts, and journalists have been wringing their hands for years as comprehensive immigration reform continues to face roadblocks and political games. Incoming GOP whip Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) claims that "the vast majority of our members want to solve this and do it in a targeted way that actually addresses the problem." However, the conversation has stalled as vocal GOP radicals are too busy discussing whether or not child migrants are drug mules or terrorists to come up with the programs and the funding to solve this issue.

Obama's meeting on Friday with presidents Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras led to even more confusion about the policy direction regarding this crisis. The White House's rhetoric seems to want to allow these immigrants into the country and offer them protection, but in the very same speech President Obama promises to deport illegal entrants as quickly as possible.

Obama's statements continue to try to appease both sides of the aisle while pleasing no one, and confusing everyone: "The American people and my administration have great compassion for these children ... [but] we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk." In the same breath, the president claimed both to want to support these children and deport them, while somehow arguing that deporting them is in everyone's best interest.

This messy system is a result of collaboration and complicity across many levels, constituting a vast network that coyotes, and certainly not the US federal government, seems able to control. The most recent proposal made on Friday by house Republicans laughably scales back Obama's initial plan for immigration reform to less than a third of its scope -- and no one expects it to gain any support.

Politicization of the issue has prevented any practical solution from reaching the table. Meanwhile, migration continues under the radar and fules multiple layers of corruption, abuse, and illegality. The illegality strengthens criminal networks and weakens hopes for a solution. The worst part is, it doesn't have to.

However, as long as DHS officials continue to celebrate deportation and pat themselves on the back for seizing 0.009 percent of the coyotes' profits, none of the rhetoric -- and therefore, none of the policies -- will change.

This blog post also appeared in the PanAm Post.