HomeNewsBriefGuatemala Passes Anti-Coyote Law to Punish Migrant Smugglers
BRIEF

Guatemala Passes Anti-Coyote Law to Punish Migrant Smugglers

GUATEMALA / 25 NOV 2015 BY MICHAEL LOHMULLER EN

Guatemala has passed tough new laws against smugglers in a bid to stem the flow of undocumented migrants to the United States. However, the legislation does little to address the underlying causes of migration and may even lead to the development of more sophisticated criminal networks.

On November 19, Guatemala’s Congress approved harsher prison sentences for migrant smugglers, known as “coyotes,” in an attempt to reduce undocumented migration in the country, reported Reuters. The reforms provide prison terms of six to eight years for smugglers who help foreigners or Guatemalans with passage, illegal documents, or employment. Smugglers assisting minors or pregnant women, or causing serious harm, may receive 13 years in prison. Smugglers are now also subject to fines of up to $50,000.

Jean Paul Briere, president of Guatemala’s congressional migration committee, said the law directly attacks organized crime and the structures dedicated to the illegal trafficking of persons.

Under this new “anti-coyote law” the act of migrating abroad in search of employment or a better life is not illegal. Instead, Guatemalan migrants will be reimbursed any payments made to smugglers, and debts incurred will be cancelled. Additionally, any physical, psychological, or economic damage is to be compensated by smugglers.

Under discussion for over year, a driving force behind the reforms was pressure from the United States. Between October 2013 and July 2014, around 60,000 unaccompanied Central American child migrants arrived at the US southern border. Guatemala’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Fernando Carrera, blamed coyotes for this crisis, claiming they provided false or partial information to entice potential migrants to undertake the journey north.

InSight Crime Analysis

Involvement in illegal migration is a lucrative undertaking for criminal groups in Central America and Mexico. While fees vary, a Central American migrant may pay as much as $10,000 to a coyote for guided passage into the United States. During the perilous journey through Mexico, however, many migrants fall victim to extortion or kidnapping by criminal groups — such as the Zetas — who see vulnerable migrants as easy prey for extracting revenue.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Smuggling

As Briere suggests, Guatemala’s migration law reforms do provide greater legal tools to attack those criminal structures that facilitate, or exploit and profit from, undocumented migration.

However, targeting coyotes may not have the desired effect of stemming migration north. As some skeptics rightly point out, the legal reforms do little to address the structural factors or motivating causes fueling migration from the region, namely, violence,  poverty, unemployment, and underdevelopment. Instead, a more likely outcome is that, given added risk, smuggler’s fees will increase. This, in turn, may make migrant smuggling an even more lucrative business, potentially drawing in more serious and sophisticated criminal entrepreneurs with an eye for profit, and further exposing migrants to violence.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

GUATEMALA / 20 DEC 2010

Guatemala's government declared a state of siege in the embattled state of Alta Verapaz on Sunday, an area…

ELITES AND CRIME / 10 DEC 2018

A new investigation alleges that one of the most influential evangelical pastors in Guatemala took money from a high-profile drug…

COLOMBIA / 26 MAR 2015

A prominent academic and US military official is the most recent voice to call for a “Plan Colombia” in Central…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…