Immigration is a perennial burning topic of debate, but the flashpoints and key players tend to change as a result of events -- some expected, and others not.
It's a journey that many have recently been taking, A voyage in search of a better life.
But very few attempt to come illegally into the United States without the help of a guide.
"I knew it was illegal, but I never saw it as something bad," says a former human smuggler I'll call Enrique Ramirez.
Ramirez was one of the most notorious human smugglers in Latin America, sometimes bringing in 400 people at a time into Mexico and the United States. He is well known, even today, among many illegal immigrants seeking to get to American soil.
"I was known for inventing the safest route from Central America to Mexico City. People requested me and it was good business ... an easy one," adds Ramirez.
For decades undocumented immigrants have come to the U.S. with the help of smugglers, also known as "coyotes," a name which describes the scavengers that prowl the borders.
I ask Ramirez, "Many of the human smugglers are known as rapists, robbers, abusers? Was that you?
"No," he answers. "I was more the head organizer, but there were people who would do it. They would rape women or abuse kids and men. It was a risk you took."
A risk that sometimes ended up costing migrants their lives. Some would die in the desert, or while swimming the Rio Grande, but the journey for others ended tragically when unscrupulous smugglers would leave them at their own fate…Such was the case of dozens of undocumented immigrants who made it over the U.S. Mexico border but were left trapped inside a big rig in Victoria, Texas. Nineteen of them died, including children.
Enrique said he saw people die many times, many of them didn't make it through the dangerous routes.
The job of a human smuggler, he explains, was to get them across the border as quickly as possible. Many coyotes on occasion would take the journey themselves going undetected, disguising themselves as immigrants.
The high-risk business comes with a costly price.
Twenty years ago, crossing from Central American to Mexico cost about $350, and possibly another $300 from Mexico City to the United States.
Today immigrants are paying from $5,000 to $10,000 for the treacherous journey across thousands of miles. If the immigrant is a child, the price can double.
The recent influx of children to the United States doesn't surprise this former human smuggler, who knows far too well the greed of coyotes, who take advantage of people yearning to be reunited with their family or seeking a better life.
"They're fooling them telling them there is opportunity over here for their kids. That's why there's a wave of children coming," says Ramirez.
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