Human Smuggling Via Central America Generates Hundreds of Millions of Dollars, but Transnational Criminal Groups May Not Be Main Culprits
Apr 22, 2019
Unlawful migrants from Central America apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border each year often hire smugglers for assistance or pay others for rights of way during their journey north. The authors of this report examine what is known or knowable about the structure, operations, and financing of actors that engage in human smuggling along routes from Central America to the United States and develop a preliminary estimate of associated revenue.
Unlawful migrants from Central America apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border each year often hire smugglers for assistance or pay others for rights of way at some point during their journey north. Policymakers face concerns that a substantial share of migrants' expenditures on smuggling services could be flowing to transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), entities that represent a potential threat to homeland security.
In response to these concerns, the authors of this report conducted a scoping study to develop a preliminary estimate of TCOs' revenues from smuggling migrants from the Northern Triangle region of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) to the United States and to characterize the TCOs' structure, operations, and financing. They conducted interviews with subject-matter experts, a review of literature, and an analysis of governmental and nongovernmental data on migration and human smuggling and found that human smuggling involves many different types of actors and that most TCOs' activities and revenues cannot be separated credibly from those of ad hoc groups, independent operators, and others who engage in human smuggling. They developed a preliminary estimate of revenues from human smuggling flowing to all types of smugglers, not just TCOs — ranging from about $200 million to $2.3 billion in 2017 — with uncertainty stemming largely from analytical challenges related to data limitations and time constraints. Separately, they also produced a preliminary estimate of the taxes, or pisos, that migrants pay to drug-trafficking TCOs to pass through their territories, ranging from about $30 million to $180 million.
The Characteristics of Human Smuggling
Preliminary Findings on Revenue Estimation
Guidance for Literature Review
Discussion Points and Questions for Subject-Matter Experts
Guidance for Data Ana
DHS and EMIF Sur Data on Smuggling Fees
HSOAC is a federally funded research and development center operated by the RAND Corporation under contract with DHS.