JANUARY 27, 2006
Every year thousands of American citizens smuggle Mexicans into this country for cash and, even when they get caught, most face no consequences. Last year alone, 4,078 U.S. citizens were arrested at the two main gateways (San Ysidro and Otay Mesa) into California from Mexico yet only 279 faced alien smuggling charges. Since 2000 the number of illegal migrants caught inside vehicles has quadrupled from 10,600 to 40,333 and about half of the drivers were U.S. citizens.
This has led customs officials at those two California ports – the busiest for human smuggling – to become the first in the nation to implement a program of civil fines for citizens and legal residents caught smuggling people into the country.
Critics, however, are calling for criminal prosecution of smugglers since they believe fines are not enough to deter Americans from this lucrative business in which they make an average of $500 a migrant. Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a nonprofit that studies immigration issues, says collecting the fines will be impossible and therefore prison time would be more effective.
A lengthy newspaper article illustrates how easy it is for Americans to make thousands of dollars smuggling Mexicans into the country. The reporter followed a veteran American smuggler through the process with his Tijuana contact. The smuggler, a young man, got caught at the California border with his cargo yet, as federal arrest records show, he was released along with 36 other American drivers caught trying to smuggle 61 migrants during a four-day stretch. The man was not fined or charged, simply relieved of his human cargo and sent home.
Roberto Martinez of the American Friends Service Committee, a pro-illegal immigration group that addresses economic imbalances between the U.S. and Mexico, believes alien smuggling should not be punished saying that “It’s not like smuggling drugs, heroin, cocaine or anything like that. It’s people.”
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