Smugglers prey on migrants’ desperation to reach border
▶ Watch Video: Smugglers seemingly advertising trip to U.S. for a price to migrants in Guatemala
Traveling through the Guatemalan state of Alta Verapaz, CBS News’ Manuel Bojorquez noticed signs appearing to advertise smuggler services on the side of the road: “Trip to the U.S.A, financing available.”
Biden administration officials have made a push to tell people coming from Central America that the border is not open and not to go, but the sometimes dire circumstances outweigh any official demand — and smugglers are readily available to cash in on their desperation.
After encountering the sign on the road, CBS News contacted the phone number listed to find out what they are offering and how much it costs.
A woman’s voice answered the phone and confirmed it was the right number. When she asked who was calling, Bojorquez gave his credentials and the line was promptly disconnected.
“No answer,” he said after she hung up.
But people say it can cost tens of thousands of dollars of often borrowed money.
Francisco Coc, a 19-year-old migrant, made it all the way to Mexico City before he ran out of money to pay smugglers.
He said he plans to work to try again.
In the town of Campur, Guatemala, poverty has been worsened by back-to-back hurricanes. Many remote farming communities have suffered the same fate, with the crops they rely on destroyed and storm damage still visible.
One local man who spoke to CBS News said he has run out of options and is considering leaving for the U.S.
However, the U.S. government has put out radio messages warning people not to come: “Don’t put your children’s lives at risk over false hopes.”
Regional Mayor Winter Coc Ba said people in his area have heard the ads, and it “works a lot.”
Asked what he would tell Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been tasked with addressing the immigration crisis, he answered that he would like her to come visit the region herself.
Coc Ba wishes the Biden administration could offer temporary work visas to Guatemalans who need them. In the meantime, he has been telling people not to go because of the dangers and perils along the way for both adults and children.
U.S. Border Patrol recently released a clip of an agent coming across a crying boy near the Rio Grande. The boy said he was 10 years old and had been abandoned by smugglers.
He said he was afraid of being kidnapped or robbed. The child is now in government custody, like thousands of others.
Officials say he is from Nicaragua, another example of the dangers of smuggling operations as well as the desperation of families who are willing to put their children in the hands of complete strangers.
The U.S. has more than 19,000 unaccompanied migrant children in custody, though the Biden administration claims it is moving hundreds a day out of Border Patrol stations and tent facilities.