A new report says that human smugglers in Mexico are turning to cargo trucks and less traveled routes to reach the United States, which pose a new set of challenges for migrants.
The report from the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, titled “Migrant Smuggling Along Mexico’s Highway System,” says Central American migrants are increasingly relying on vehicles and lorries that move along Mexico's highway system, while using its railways less to make it to the United States.
Using a database of media reports on human smuggling cases along the US and Mexican borders between 2003 and August 2017, coupled with surveys of migrants, the report concluded that human smuggling routes have shifted as enforcement increased after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched the Programa Frontera Sur (Southern Border Program) in 2014.
According to the report, the use of private vehicles by migrants to transit through Mexico before reaching the United States jumped from 16 percent before the program’s launch to 26 percent in 2016, while the use of buses jumped from 86 percent to 93 percent in 2016.
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Moreover, the report found that just 62 human smuggling cases using vehicles within Mexico were recorded between May 2003 and June 2014, or just under six per year, while 95 cases were observed between July 2014 and August 2017, or over 31 per year.
The report concludes that this has increased corruption along the highway system, as smugglers often bribe migration and security officials to guarantee safe passage. Additionally, the report found that smugglers are now utilizing historically less-traveled routes to try and elude these checkpoints, which the report claims has led to an increase in the number of migrant deaths.
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Mexico’s infamous “La Bestia” (“The Beast”) north-bound freight train has a dangerous reputation. And rightfully so: The train leaves migrants exposed and vulnerable, and many fall off the moving train. But migrants themselves say that while the risks of assault are much higher on the train, the other major risks -- extreme cold, lack of food, getting lost -- are much lower.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling
Earlier this year US authorities found 39 migrants -- 10 of whom died -- crammed into the tractor-trailer of an 18-wheeler in San Antonio, Texas. It’s likely that the vehicle had to successfully pass through some Border Patrol checkpoint to reach the city.
That same month, Mexican authorities rescued 147 Central American migrants in the “wilderness” of Veracruz state after smugglers forced them out of the vehicle they were traveling in, suggesting that the smugglers were using a lesser-known route.