The dire economic situation in Central America is acting as a “breeding ground” for those wanting to take the risk and illegally come to the U.S., according to a regional security expert.
Since October 2013, the U.S. Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley sector has made more than 194,000 arrests, 37,000 of whom were unaccompanied minors.
The reason for increased illegal immigration to the U.S. he believes is “a rumor that circulated in Central America that Central American children will not be automatically deported as Mexican children are.”
Payan says gangs are taking advantage of this false opportunity. “[They] are fueling this rumor and profiting from it because they charge thousands of dollars per child.”
Cartels used to focus their operations on drug trafficking; now they have diversified their criminal activity in Mexico and Central America.
“Now we see kidnapping for ransom and extortion, human trafficking, human smuggling as large multi-billion dollar businesses,” said Payan.
U.S. officials are concerned that cartels may be collaborating with local gangs to expand their reach.
“A number of gangs on the ground have hooked up with these large cartels that charge them a certain amount of money for operating in their territory,” said Payan. “This is a very complex, transnational network of individuals.”
The cartels don’t seem to have any political motivations for now.
“Their motivation is economic … they are willing to do anything for the right price,” said Payan.
If the right offer comes along, however, he believes they might be willing to smuggle individuals or groups into the U.S. who are seeking to hurt American national security.