Guatemala's Congress is analyzing an initiative to target the human smugglers known as "coyotes," as political pressure in the region builds to tackle the unprecedented numbers of child migrants trying to enter the US.
Guatemala's congressional Justice and Security Committee is in the process of analyzing reforms to the country's Migration Law that would punish human smugglers with up to 12 years in prison, reported Republica.
The initiative would also give law enforcement bodies the power to record phone conversations and employ undercover agents in pursuit of human smuggling networks, reported Siglo 21.
A congressman cited by Siglo 21 said legislators also intend to reform other laws, including the Penal Code, to make human smuggling punishable by up to 25 years in prison if the case involves other illegal activities such as drug trafficking or kidnapping.
The president of Guatemala's Migrant Commission stated that the reforms are a response to recommendations from the United Nations and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), but that lawmakers are speeding up the process due to the highly publicized flood of child migrants attempting to cross the US border.
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Since October 2013, more than 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants -- most of them from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador -- have been detained while attempting to cross the border into the US. President Barack Obama has called the phenomenon an "urgent humanitarian situation" and requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress.
With pressure building in the US, there are already signs that the region's response will involve a crackdown on coyotes. Authorities in neighboring Honduras have detained nine human smugglers since June 20, a police source told AFP, while Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren recently announced his administration's intention to pursue coyotes. One migrant smuggler told El Faro that he expected to face increased legal pressure following the crisis.
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While prosecution may deter some human smugglers, it will not address the root causes of the migration. Research has indicated that widespread violence is one of the major factors motivating Central American children to migrate to the US, and if this issue is not addressed, along with the economic and social factors have traditionally driven immigration, unaccompanied minors will likely continue to make the journey northward in large numbers.