A 2007 report of the United Nations declared that human trafficking and smuggling of willing and unwilling persons into the United States and other affluent nations had become one of the largest international crime problems in the world. Only illegal drug trafficking of drugs was known to be a larger criminal business. Human smuggling has been practiced by small bands, organized street gangs, and large well-funded and -equipped crime syndicates. The ability of the U.S. government to combat human smuggling has been impeded by budget cuts, manpower shortages, and the sheer number of possible entry points along the nation’s long coastlines and land borders.
The smuggling of immigrants into the United States has taken two primary forms: human trafficking and human smuggling. Although the two forms have points in common and the terms are not always used consistently, they also have significant differences. Human trafficking may be characterized as preying on impoverished individuals, particularly in countries disturbed by political unrest, famine conditions, warfare, or other problems that magnify economic problems.
Human traffickers lure individuals to emigrate to other nations with promises of good jobs and other inducements. However, after the traffickers convey the individuals to the other nations, they typically hold them hostage in order to exploit them economically. The most common victims whom traffickers bring to the United States are women, who may be made to work as exotic dancers,
Border Patrol agent inspecting a train for smuggled immigrants at the El Paso, Texas, border crossing in 1938.
Victims of human traffickers generally have few freedoms, and the bulk of the earnings from their employment go to the individuals or groups responsible for bringing them to the country. During the early twenty-first century, worldwide human trafficking was estimated to involve almost 1 million victims a year. However, the U.S. government estimates that fewer than 5 percent of these victims are smuggled into the United States.
Human smuggling differs from trafficking in that the people whom professional smugglers illegally convey into other countries are willing immigrants who voluntarily pay the smugglers for their services. Most immigrants who pay to be smuggled into the United States and other nations do so to seek economic opportunities not available in their own nations. Some smuggled immigrants are also motivated by the desire to be reunited with family members and friends who have preceded them.
All parties involved in human smuggling in the United States do so knowingly violating the criminal statutes of the United States. However, the risks of getting caught do not outweigh the potential rewards of succeeding. Smuggled immigrants who are apprehended in the United States are usually simply deported out of the country. In contrast, immigrants who are the involuntary victims of human traffickers are sometimes granted sanctuary in the United States. When smuggled immigrants find economic success in the United States, their experiences often inspire more people in their homelands to attempt to follow their examples.
Illegal immigration from Mexico, which shares a long border with the United States, has long been a major problem. Only a fraction of the millions of impoverished Mexicans who have wished to work in the United States have been permitted to entry the country legally, leaving the rest to consider ways of entering illegally. Smuggling has consequently become a popular option. Stopping illegal human crossings and drug smuggling at the border are daily concerns of U.S.
Smuggling attempts begin with the groups that prepare to transport immigrants across the border. These groups are sometimes small and unorganized, but most are run much like organized crime elements such as the Italian Mafia. The smugglers are popularly known as
Because of the brutal conditions that smuggled immigrants are often forced to endure, injuries and deaths are common. In May of 2009, for example, the
Capturing human smugglers in the United States and other nations has been difficult in part because of the complexity of smuggling operations. Generally tightly centralized, the groups use safe houses for transporting immigrants and often change the location of these houses so frequently that law enforcement can never catch up with them. Cellular telephones, Global Positioning Systems, and other technological advances have helped smugglers work more quickly and stealthily.
In 2008, the U.S. Department of State estimated that human smuggling, including trafficking, was a ten-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise. Smuggling is a world problem afflicting every populated region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union during the early 1990’s, many former Soviet bloc nations such as Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, and the
European nations, such as Great Britain, have made strides in combatting the smuggling and trafficking of immigrants within their own countries through new legislation, tougher enforcement, and stronger penalties.
Many Asian smuggling and trafficking groups have been known for transporting illegal immigrants by ship and using poorly guarded port cities as places of entry into the United States. The United States has worked closely with the Chinese and Japanese governments to combat the illegal transportation of immigrants on fishing vessels and cargo ships. By the early twenty-first century, other Asian countries were also enforcing stricter penalties for trafficking.
Increased human smuggling in the United States has contributed to increases in other criminal activity. For example, immigrants attempting to elude capture have wounded and killed U.S. law-enforcement personnel. Western and southwestern states such as New Mexico, California, and Arizona have also seen increases in drug-related crimes, sexual assaults, robberies, burglaries, and murders in which immigrants have been the perpetrators. In 2004, Phoenix, Arizona, police estimated that an increase in the city’s murder rate was largely a result of violence related to illegal immigration.
In response to increased human smuggling and international projections that the problem would continue to grow, the U.S. Congress passed the
Outside the United States, Interpol
Kyle, David, and Rey Koslowski. Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Examination of illegal immigration and those who profit from it, with attention to why more has not been done to suppress smuggling. McGill, Craig. Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves, and Immigration. London: Vision Paperbacks, 2003. Details the stories of illegal immigrants from four different nations and the struggles the people involved have endured. McMurray, David. In and Out of Morocco: Smuggling and Migration in a Frontier Boomtown. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Exploration of the lax laws for preventing smuggling and trafficking that some small nations, such as Morocco, have. Ramos, Jorge. Dying to Cross: The Worst Immigrant Tragedy in American History. New York: Harper Paperbacks, 2006. Details the Victoria, Texas, tragedy involving the deaths of nineteen smuggled immigrants. Uehling, Greta Lynn. “The International Smuggling of Children: Coyotes, Snakeheads, and the Politics of Compassion.” Anthropological Quarterly 81, no. 4 (2008): 833-871. Examination of the growing problem of children who are illegally smuggled into the United States.
Border Patrol, U.S.
Bureau of Immigration, U.S.
Economic consequences of immigration
Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S.