EL PASO, Texas -- Former U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte of El Paso tells ABC-7 that Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of the recent influx of migrants, using it as an opportunity to "make money."
Almonte said cartel activity in human smuggling has increased over the last several years, adding that's it's more cost effective to be involved in human smuggling that it is to be in drug trafficking.
"The drug cartels get paid one time and one time only and very often they don't get their money right away," Almonte said. "When it comes to human smuggling, the cartels are paid upfront several thousand dollars."
Melissa Lopez, executive director with the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services in El Paso, said as more migrants - specifically families and single adults - are expelled to Mexico, it's easier for criminals to take advantage of them.
"There's a system of criminals in Mexico, the 'coyotes,' the traffickers, who love the fact who love the fact that we're just importing people into Mexico." She said the migrants who are exported are in a vulnerable state.
Almonte said human smuggling often also turns into human trafficking and that migrants who make the journey typically find out how to get here through word of mouth.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said this week that the state plans to crack down on human trafficking by investigating and apprehending those who help migrants illegally cross the border. Abbott called the recent influx in unaccompanied migrant children "a humanitarian crisis."
ABC-7 did reach out to the governor's office for specific evidence that unaccompanied migrant children are being trafficked but did not receive a response.
Lopez said while she's glad the state is taking efforts to investigate human trafficking, she found his comment's "hypocritical."
"Where has he been for the last four years," Lopez said. "Especially in the last two years where we've seen so much suffering by people who were forced to wait in Mexico. At no point was there ever concern for for their safety for their dignity."
Lopez said the work to stop human trafficking is necessary, "but the children shouldn't suffer as a result of whatever that investigation might be."
Almonte and immigration advocates both said that it is evident that migrants make the dangerous trip to the U.S. for a better life.
"My concern is that you're going to see a lot of people that had intentions of coming to the greatest country, the United States, being circumvented by the Mexican cartel, taken off track, and forced into human trafficking, sex trafficking, or other criminal activity," Almonte said.