Op-Ed: It's Time to Put a Stop to Immigrant Smuggling and Coyote Ugly

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When discussing undocumented immigration, too much focus is put on the immigrants and too little attention is given to those who profit from undocumented immigrants: the smugglers. Many migrants who cannot use lawful channels to enter the country have little recourse other than using the smuggling services of coyotes. These coyotes are also often drug traffickers who diversified their business by including human trafficking as one of the services they offer. Not only does it expose desperate immigrants to extremely dangerous conditions, but it also often puts these immigrants in debt with these drug traffickers. Most people argue that the solution is to dedicate more resources to stop immigrant smuggling. This is ignoring that, as it was for the War on Drugs, the war on smuggling is a war we are bound to lose. A better solution is to make it easier for immigrants to move to the United States.

These smugglers profit from migrants’ despair. The cost of being smuggled into the U.S. is in the thousands of dollars. Migrants must face the trade-off of paying a large fee just to potentially make it to the border or keep the money and risk their life trying make it across the border on their own.

Immigrants, especially those coming to the U.S. from countries ravaged by drug cartels’ violence, are desperately seeking a safer and better life. For many of these immigrants, coming into the country as quickly as possible is not just about making more money for them and their loved ones, it is a matter of life and death. However, when there is an influx of immigrants, border control gets tighter, hence the greater demand for smugglers. Fortunately (but really, unfortunately) for immigrants, smugglers have fine-tuned their practice to ensure that the immigrants can get into the country as quickly as possible and skip right around the grueling policies in place.

In order to stop this vicious cycle, immigration policies must stop enabling that type of business. A current policy, implemented by the Trump administration and being quietly continued by the Biden administration, is Title 42. Title 42 was implemented in the name of slowing the spread of COVID-19 but is really a shrewd way of bolting the doors to safety for many. A very likely consequence of such a policy will not be to stop undocumented immigrants from crossing the border, it will just push them to utilize smugglers at higher rates due to an increased demand for entrance into the country given such tight restrictions.

By reforming policies such as Title 42, migrants would no longer have a need for utilizing coyotes and would be set to save anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000. Not only would this money help a migrant start their life in America, more important, this money could be used to pay for the increase in costs associated with immigration reforms. A more efficient policy to put in place would be one that allows easier entry but implements an increased monetary contribution that a migrant must make. There are many fees that arise from the legal immigration process; by allowing migrants to enter the country more readily, they can then go through the legal process more readily. Due to an influx of migrants who would be needing documentation processed, there are increased costs to fulfill that need. It is then feasible for the U.S. to increase immigration processing fees due to migrants having more money available to them. This increase in fees will come from the new costs being passed on to those who need the services — the migrants — and not U.S. natives.

Relaxing immigration policies is in no way the same as opening borders indiscriminantly. The problem is that the current overpowering nature of law enforcement has an all-or-nothing attitude that hurts those truly seeking prosperity along the way. Harmful businesses have been created in order to exploit those who are vulnerable because of a demand that should have never been created in the first place. We must reform our immigration system to deny dangerous smugglers the power over desperate migrants seeking a better life for themselves and their family. It is time for the U.S. to make immigration laws humane again.

Ellie Beaudo is an economics major at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Westword frequently publishes op-eds and essays on matters of interest to the Denver community; the opinions expressed in them are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected], where you can also comment on this piece.
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