It doesn’t matter how the Biden administration tries to spin it, there is undeniably a crisis underway at the southwest border. The number of illegal border crossings is up 100 percent over this time last year, and at this rate apprehensions of illegal immigrants will surpass all of 2018, 2019, and 2020 combined. As of this writing, a record number of unaccompanied migrant teens are in federal custody, with hundreds more arriving every day.
The Washington Post reports that more than 8,500 minors are in shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services, and another 3,500 are in U.S. Border Patrol stations — facilities that are basically concrete holding cells, not designed for minors or families, and not intended to house anyone for more than 72 hours. As of now, however, minors are being held for an average of 107 hours, in violation of federal law, because HHS has nowhere to place them.
The largest number of migrants held in these Border Patrol facilities during the Trump administration was 2,600 in June 2019, when President Trump was denounced by Democrats and the corporate press for putting “kids in cages.” The press is now predictably silent, and Democrats deny there is even a crisis.
But that, of course, has been as predictable as the crisis itself. President Biden came into office and signed a raft of executive orders that ended key Trump-era policies that had helped reduce illegal border-crossing. The effect of that shift has been profound. From the Rio Grande to Tegucigalpa, word has gone out that now is the time to migrate north, that if you can get into the United States, Biden will let you stay.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador acknowledged as much after a virtual meeting with Biden on March 1, saying, “They see him as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States.” Mexican officials are now worried that Biden administration policies are creating a boon for organized crime, which increasingly traffics in migrants, charging each one thousands to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. “Migrants have become a commodity,” one Mexican official told Reuters this week.
Cartel-associated smuggling networks are making huge profits charging migrants, most of them from Central America, for passage through Mexico and into the U.S. As in previous migrant surges, smugglers — commonly referred to as “coyotes” — are advising people to bring children with them, even offering discounted rates for adults crossing with children.
The reason for the discount is simple: An adult with a child makes a smuggler’s job easier. Instead of trying to evade Border Patrol, adults with children simply turn themselves in to the nearest Border Patrol agents and claim asylum. In some cases, the adult is not actually the parent of the child he is traveling with, a practice that was well-documented during the 2019 border crisis.
Under the Biden administration’s new border policies, which mirror the Obama-era’s catch-and-release procedures, most of those claiming asylum will be released into the United States after a short time with instructions to appear before an immigration judge. This creates an enormous incentive for desperate people in Central America seeking a better life, but also enormous incentives for cartels and smuggling networks to profit off the flow of migrants. Indeed, cartels along the border have developed highly-sophisticated systems for tracking migrant payments, with most of their “customers” remaining in a form of debt bondage even after they’re residing in the states.
The Root Cause of the Crisis Is Collapsing States
But that’s just one end of the problem. By the time Central American migrants get to northern Mexico, it’s very difficult to prevent their crossing into the U.S., given the resources and incentives of the cartels.
The other end of the problem is in the sending countries in Central America, the so-called Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The corporate press and lawmakers of both parties most often focus on the poverty and gang violence in Central America but miss a more important aspect, which is the extent of official corruption in the governments of these countries. That corruption is directly tied to drug trafficking and the transnational cartels that are helping drive illegal immigration on the border.
For example, in the scrum of headlines about the royal family and President Joe Biden’s dogs this week, you might have missed an important story that bears directly on all of this: The president of Honduras was implicated in a massive drug-trafficking scheme and is allegedly in the pay of transnational drug cartels.
At the opening of a trial for accused Honduran drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez in New York on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Gutwillig said Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández was an integral part of Fuentes Ramírez’s trafficking operation. “His operations thrived because of his connections,” Gutwillig said. “Mayors, congressmen, military generals, police chiefs, even the current president of Honduras. The defendant bribed them all.”
One of the witnesses who will testify during the trial, added Gutwillig, was present when Hernández said he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos” and flood the United States with cocaine.
This isn’t the first time Hernández’s name has come up in a high-profile federal trial. During a 2019 trial that led to the conviction of his brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, the Honduran president was accused of accepting more than $1 million in bribes from the now-imprisoned former head of the Sinaloa Cartel, infamous Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Hernández has long denied any involvement in drug trafficking, although a filing by prosecutors in the Fuentes Ramírez case confirmed he is under investigation by U.S. authorities, according to the Associated Press.
The reason all this matters to the migrant crisis underway at the border is that, to put it bluntly, putatively sovereign states like Honduras are in a state of collapse. Ordinary people in these countries, encouraged by the Biden administration, are making a rational and reasonable choice to travel north and get into the United States by any means possible.
As countries like Honduras continue to implode under the weight of corruption and collusion with cartels, people in those countries will keep coming north. Turning them away, as the Trump administration did, is only a partial fix. Allowing them in, as the Biden administration is doing, enriches cartels by providing them a nearly unlimited supply of paying customers (and victims). It also creates a humanitarian crisis in South Texas and other border states, as we’re now seeing.
In the long run, the United States can’t continue its long-standing policy of benign neglect of our southern neighbors. The chaos and corruption that plague those countries will, one way or another, make its way to us eventually. At that point, it will be too late to stop an illegal immigration crisis that won’t number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, but the millions.