EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- More and more Americans are now smuggling migrants across the border, enticed by the money paid by Mexican drug cartels.
ABC-7 interviewed an American human smuggler who revealed details about the human smuggling operations in this region. The interview took place in an undisclosed location in New Mexico, and we have withheld the identity of the smuggler at his request.
Ten years ago, over 80% of human smuggling sentences in the U.S. were handed down to non-Americans. The illegal operation was mostly handled by non-U.S. citizens, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The pandemic changed that balance.
“All the surveillance around the border has spiked the money we charge migrants, and that happened at the time of the pandemic where there were no jobs,” the smuggler said. “When the pandemic hit there were no jobs and many of us found a way to make good money from human smuggling."
As the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.- Mexico border continues to break records, the human smuggling business continues to boom, according to official figures and U.S. border authorities.
The smuggler said that he gets paid between $1,500 and $3,000 per migrant. He drives them from El Paso to Albuquerque. If they need to be taken further North, the payment could be up to $10,000.
“All of these operations are set up and owned by the cartel, but now they are using almost exclusively Americans, almost exclusively because we get through the (Border Patrol) checkpoints very easily,” the smuggler said.
Border Patrol officials say the number of Americans apprehended for human smuggling in El Paso alone spiked over 80% the past four years.
During the first half of 2023, courts have sentenced over 750 U.S. citizens found smuggling migrants into El Paso.
"The number is much higher, these are only the cases that got prosecuted," said Fidel Baca, a Border Patrol spokesperson in El Paso. "Many, many others don’t make it that far for a number of different reasons, so the number of sentences is incomplete, misleading."
The new trend comes as the number of migrants arriving at the border reaches record numbers, first after the end of the pandemic-era policy, Title 42, and now during a new surge fueled mostly by Venezuelans.
Luis Chaparro is ABC-7's reporter for the Puente News Collaborative, a partnership among local media outlets bringing in-depth border reporting to the Borderland.