EL PASO, TEXAS — They are the “worst travel agents” on Earth.
The human smugglers or coyotes who charge up to $15,000 per migrant to bring them thousands of miles through Central America and Mexico promise comfortable rides in air-conditioned buses and stays in clean hotels.
They also tell them that the Biden administration is giving out “free amnesty” to migrants, Border Patrol agents told The Post.
Coyotes also lie to migrants, some of them traveling from as far away as Haiti or Turkey, about the distance they have to travel when they leave them at the frontier between Mexico and the US, said Border Patrol agents in El Paso Sector last week.
The coyotes, also known as “polleros” or chicken herders, have abandoned unaccompanied children as young as 3 years old in scorching scrubland where rattlesnakes and actual coyotes roam.
Sometimes they hoist the migrants by rope or metal ladders over fences as high as 30 feet, encouraging them to jump into rushing canals and the bulging Rio Grande, where water levels have risen after recent monsoons, according to Border Patrol agents in the area.
After midnight on July 1, coyotes abandoned five unaccompanied children from Guatemala near the Ysleta port of entry in southeastern El Paso. The children, aged 14 to 17, became stranded in the rushing waters of the Rio Grande, and were all in danger of drowning, according to the El Paso Sector Border Patrol agents who pulled them out of the water.
“It just shows you how callous these cartel guys are,” said agent Richard Barragan. “They get their money and they don’t care if you live or die.”
The US Border Patrol in the Southwest region, which includes Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, participated in 10,275 rescues in fiscal year 2021, compared to 5,071 the previous year. Migrants deaths increased to 383 in 2021 from 253 the year before.
Overall, nearly 209,000 migrants were encountered crossing the border last month, a 317 percent increase over August 2020, according to a report. Meanwhile, a mushrooming number of migrants — more than 10,000 and counting — have gathered this week under the Del Rio International Bridge awaiting asylum.
Coyotes rarely prepare migrants for the harrowing journey that often lasts several weeks. Brenda Montoya, 21, arrived from the impoverished state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. She crossed the border at Sunland Park, NM, on Sept. 1 and tearfully told a Post reporter that she had barely eaten anything during her two-week journey.
“It’s been really difficult,” she said. Montoya, a single mother, was handcuffed by Border Patrol agents after she tried to evade capture three times during the predawn raid. She was hoping to join family in Houston, but has run out of money, she said.
Like most migrants interviewed by The Post, she said she had made the journey on her own. Border Patrol agents say that the coyotes tell their charges to lie about their participation when they are questioned about the journey.
Border Patrol agents now carry personal flotation devices in their vehicles to save migrants from drowning, Barragan told The Post. They also increasingly rely on helicopters to fly into remote, mountainous areas to save migrants in distress. In June, helicopter pilots from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air Marine Operations in El Paso rescued a woman suffering from “a heat-related injury” in a remote area near Sierra Blanca, 87 miles southeast of El Paso. The unidentified woman, who was “unresponsive” when medics arrived on the scene was among a group of 30 migrants.
In April, Border Patrol agents rescued an 8-year-old boy abandoned in New Mexico “walking aimlessly through the desert by himself,” according to a Border Patrol statement.
Using lookouts stationed on the Mexican side of mountains in the region, smugglers study the movements of Border Patrol agents. They wait for pre-dawn shift changes to push migrants over border walls. Most smugglers are affiliated with the Sinaloa and La Linea drug cartels, based in Ciudad Juarez, Border Patrol agents told The Post.
“They encourage them [migrants] to break bones, and in many cases it’s fatal,” said El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Gloria Chavez, who has been active in creating Border Patrol social media campaigns warning migrants in Central America and Mexico about the dangers of the journey to the US border. There have been 31 deaths in FY 2021 compared with 10 deaths last year in the El Paso Sector.
“There is no way you can cross Mexico without paying off a cartel,” said Landon Hutchens, a spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection in El Paso. “The coyotes are the worst travel agents in the world, and they have no regard for human life.”