Human Smuggling

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Coyotes and The Business of Human Smuggling

Coyote is a word that usually brings about an image of the animal, but within the culture of Mexico and South America, they picture a whole different beast. Coyote to these people is the name for a smuggler who facilitates the migration of people across the U.S. border and makes a profit. In Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario we get a quick glimpse into this dangerous trade, but how deep is this business? Human smuggling has become a world-wide industry that ‘employs’ every year millions of people and leads to the annual turnover of billions of dollars.

In general, human smuggling is growing at an extensive rate due to the strict border controls as well as the growing demographic and the imbalance of it in the world. Human smuggling rings range from small to large scale performers in the transnational market. In the past, human smuggling operations tended to be more limited and unorganized, but as human smuggling continues to flourish, there human smuggling rings are becoming more extensive and organized by the day. In Mexico, the once informal business of smuggling has grown into a overpowering web of "literally hundreds of syndicates, some at a low level and some at the kingpin level". (Jordan) With this development, there has been a new organization within coyotes to open opportunities for non-Mexicans to use this system as well. To further express this complexity, it’s a common occurrence for immigrants to be smuggles to not just across the border, but to sever countries across the globe before ever making it to their destination.

Over the last decade, human smuggling has grown into a sophisticated service industry, with specific enclaves and routes used by smugglers becoming almost official; for example: “from Mexico and Central America to the United States, from West Asia through Greece and Turkey to Western Europe, and within East and Southeast Asia.” (Väyrynen) There are a combination of interacting factors that are responsible for the growth of this business, that stems from a weak legislation, officials that are corrupt, and the power of organized crime.

The smuggling network and it’s complexity is dependent upon the nature of the route and the dangers of the journey. For the routes that are well tested and known, smugglers function more as a solid unit of contained operations. The more complex the route may be, the more must be added to this “unit”. In general though, there is no clear identifiable infrastructure, and is most commonly nontraditional. Smugglers tend to form business alliances that are usually temporary, and seem to work the best when it’s based on a one-to-one basis. In the business of people smuggling, there is specially "lead” figure who commands the activities of subordinates; instead, individuals consider themselves as free agents, and conduct business on equal ground. In fact, according to a Los Angeles-based smuggler, "The division of labor is really clear and refined. Everyone involved is useful in his own way and does his own thing only. There is no leadership in any smuggling rings. Leadership will not emerge because the work involved is so specialized.” (Ashcroft)

When speaking about this business, there is an important distinction to discuss between human smuggling and human trafficking. Due to the complex nature of human trafficking and the business of human smuggling , the differences between these two criminal acts are not always apparent, but important to differentiate.

Speaking generally, human trafficking involves moving individuals from one place to another by force, or under false pretense. Whereas with smuggling, there is a common understanding between the smuggler and the immigrant, then come to a business agreement to move. There differences can be discovered by the “These differences can similarly be detected in the “Trafficking and Smuggling Protocols (more commonly known as the Palermo Protocols)...
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