Despite President Donald Trump’s rhetoric that smugglers are dangerous cartel members, the majority of people convicted in federal court in 2018 were American men, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Nearly 63% of smugglers were Americans, 75% were men and 58% had no prior criminal history. The use of weapons was not involved in 97% of cases. The main areas of smuggling were southern and western Texas, Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico, according to the commission.
It’s a drastic change from the mid-1990s when about 80% of the smugglers caught were not American citizens, according to the Sentencing Commission.
“It’s pretty lucrative if you can get away with it,” Brady J. Waikel, U.S. Border Patrol’s assistant chief agent in Del Rio, Texas, told The Washington Post. “Nobody thinks they’re going to get caught.”
But people do get caught, and they come from all walks of life.
On June 21, a group of teenagers was trying to smuggle nine migrants to San Antonio from southern Texas in exchange for thousands of dollars, according to the Post. But when a sheriff’s deputy spotted them, the teenagers tried to flee — and one of the trucks ended up flipping over, killing one man, amputating another woman’s arm and breaking limbs of others.
Those six teenagers are now facing murder and human smuggling charges, the Post reported.
In another case on Oct. 25, two American citizens livestreamed their high-speed car chase as they attempted to flee from law enforcement with several undocumented people in the car, the Laredo Morning Times reported.
Experts and law enforcement officials told the Post that many Americans do not realize they are working as the last step in a system often set up by larger smuggling operations and that an increase in smuggling is a symptom of tighter border security between the U.S. and Mexico. Migrants, knowing they will be turned away from the U.S. and forced to wait in Mexico, are once again turning to smuggling instead of seeking asylum.
“It has now gone back to, oddly, where we started,” Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at the New York University School of Law, told the Post. “It’s gone back to sneaking in.”