Border security

Migrant smugglers up rates, US border vigilance rising, but they still cross

A Border Patrol agent helps an immigrant setting up intravenous fluid replacement for dehydration, near Sells, Arizona.

A Border Patrol agent helps an immigrant setting up intravenous fluid replacement for dehydration, near Sells, Arizona.  (AP)

President Donald Trump's immigration policy has caused people smugglers known as "coyotes" to raise their rates to bring migrants into the US now that the routes are longer and have become more dangerous because of the increased border vigilance, undocumented immigrants say.

Because border monitoring has increased and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it will hire more than 5,000 new agents, the coyotes have been raising their prices.

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"If before this there were six immigration police watching [a stretch of border] now there are 22 divided into different shifts," Altagracia Tamayo Madueño, the founder of the Cobina shelter for migrants in Mexicali, told EFE.

As a result of the increase in border vigilance, coyotes are now charging "exorbitant" fees to guide migrants into the U.S., but people are still crossing, she emphasizes.

"Definitely, the traffickers have really benefited from these changes, because now they've raised their fees from $5,000 to $12,000, and the cheapest one's going to charge you $8,000," she said.

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Mexican citizen Santos Olea, who over the past four months has tried four times to cross into the US but failed on each attempt, and the last time he was deported and warned that if he returned he would go to jail, corroborates what Tamayo said.

Olea said that the costs have risen greatly, the routes are longer and the crossings have become more dangerous due to the increase in border monitoring by U.S. agents.

With his eyes fixed on the enormous iron fence separating Mexicali from the California city of Calexico, Olea told EFE that his dreams of reaching the US - each time through the Tecate Mountains - have evaporated.

Now he wanders around with a worn-out backpack, his only possession, through the Mexican city's downtown, trying to collect enough money somehow to pay for a return ticket to his home in Acapulco, far from the border.

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Daniel Martinez, born in El Salvador and deported from Los Angeles three months ago, told EFE that because of the coyotes' high fees he had not been able to return to the US.

"Now everything's more difficult. They ask thousands of dollars, the routes are longer and ... more dangerous. It's a battle to cross," he emphasized.

He said that Central Americans have to flee their countries due to poverty, violence and drug trafficking, but now their options for achieving a better life have been reduced at the border by the extreme US vigilance and the greed of the coyotes.

It used to be that hundreds of undocumented migrants would cross through the border fence in broad daylight, Antonia Vazquez, a Calexico resident who has lived for 25 years close to the dividing line between the two countries, told EFE.

And Juan Garcia Elizalde, seated on a bench a few yards from the border, said with a smile, "There will always be illegals. If this guy Trump puts up walls, it doesn't matter, we'll put up ladders and cross because Mexicans go wherever they want."