July 1, 2018

AMNESTY IS NOT ENOUGH:

What It Costs to Be Smuggled Across the U.S. Border: Bribes and shakedowns. Days in hideaways without food. For many fleeing violence in Central America, this is what thousands of dollars gets them on the journey to the United States. (NICHOLAS KULISH, JUNE 30, 2018, NY Times)

MATAMOROS, Mexico -- Shortly before dawn one Sunday last August, a driver in an S.U.V. picked up Christopher Cruz at a stash house in this border city near the Gulf of Mexico. The 22-year-old from El Salvador was glad to leave the one-story building, where smugglers kept bundles of cocaine and marijuana alongside their human cargo, but he was anxious about what lay ahead.

The driver deposited Mr. Cruz at an illegal crossing point on the edge of the Rio Grande. A smuggler took a smartphone photograph to confirm his identity and sent it using WhatsApp to a driver waiting to pick him up on the other side of the frontier when -- if -- he made it across.

The nearly 2,000-mile trip had already cost Mr. Cruz's family more than $6,000 and brought him within sight of Brownsville, Tex. The remaining 500 miles to Houston -- terrain prowled by the United States Border Patrol as well as the state and local police -- would set them back another $6,500.

It was an almost inconceivable amount of money for someone who earned just a few dollars a day picking coffee beans back home. But he wasn't weighing the benefits of a higher-paying job. He was fleeing violence and what he said was near-certain death at the hands of local gangs.

"There's no other option," Mr. Cruz said. "The first thought I had was, 'I just need to get out of here at whatever cost.'" [...]

Mr. Cruz's story provides an unusually detailed anatomy of the price of the journey. The money paid for a network of drivers who concealed him in tractor-trailers and minibuses, a series of houses where he hid out, handlers tied to criminal organizations who arranged his passage, and bribes for Mexican police officers to look the other way as he passed.

Even with his family's payment, he slept amid filth and vermin. He watched guides abandon some migrants who could not keep up, and guards prod others to become drug mules. Sometimes the smugglers identified him by a numeric code, other times by an assumed name. But as often as not, they simply called him "the package," to be moved for profit like an illicit good.

For Mr. Cruz, it was worth it. "They can build as many walls as they want," he said, referring to American officials. "They can send as many soldiers to the border as they want, but a people's need and desire for a better life is stronger."

Posted by at July 1, 2018 8:22 AM

  

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