Lawmakers want drug cartels’ hands out of migrant smuggling

Border Crime

Concern grows as Mexican soldiers shut down obvious routes

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are concerned about the growing involvement of drug cartels in migrant smuggling.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) this week pushed in Washington, D.C., an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) that directs American intelligence agencies to prioritize enforcement actions against drug cartels and other organizations involved in human smuggling. In the meantime, migrant advocates in Mexico warned that with the new Mexican National Guard shutting down obvious routes between U.S. ports of entry, migrants would turn to smugglers to take them through less-traveled paths.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, is concerned about the growing involvement of Mexican drug cartels in the smuggling of migrants. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

“Drug cartels, human traffickers and human smugglers are making this crisis worse and putting innocent lives at risk. They profit while people in Central America suffer and entire nations are destabilized,” Hurd said on the House floor.

He suggested that law enforcement is not maximizing the use of intelligence, as demonstrated by the 104,000 migrants apprehended in June along the Southwest border.

“Almost every one of them had a phone number of a smuggler, a license plate of a bus that brought them here or a pickup location in their home country,” Hurd said. “Understanding and disabling these smuggling and trafficking networks should be a national intelligence priority.”

The Border Patrol concurs that “practically everyone” apprehended in the El Paso Sector outside of a port of entry utilized the services of a smuggler.

Hurd’s amendment would require the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a review of priorities in the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — as well as in Mexico and then provide quarterly briefings to Congress.

Also this week, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia) asked Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan at a House Judiciary subcommittee if Mexican drug cartels, including the Zetas, the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa cartel were “massively profiting” from transporting migrants to the United States. McAleenan said “yes.”

The Acting Secretary estimates that the drug cartels are making more than $3 billion now from this business model.

In Juarez, officials with the National Immigration Institute (INM) wouldn’t provide information on smuggling groups, but an agency spokesman said the agency’s enforcement arm, has raided several hotels and residences where Cuban and Central American smugglers had been housed by smugglers.

And Javier Calvillo, director of Juarez’s largest migrant shelter, Casa del Migrante, told KTSM he’s concerned that the use of the Mexican National Guard to prevent Central Americans from crossing the Rio Grande, would lead more of them to use smugglers. The Catholic priest said he has already heard cases in which migrants either died or became dehydrated wondering the desert south of Santa Teresa and south of Tornillo.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.