As smuggling prices rise, the cartels that control the migrant traffic through Mexico stand to make as much as $2.5 billion this year, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan told Congress on Wednesday.
“They’re profiting tremendously,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He said migrants can pay $5,000 to $7,000 per person to the smuggling organizations for the journey, and as the numbers rise, it means soaring income for those organizations, who control almost all the routes into the U.S. for illegal immigrants.
The payments go to cover everything from the foot guides to lead them, the stash houses where they’re kept, and the drivers who take them through checkpoints. Even just crossing the boundary itself requires a “mafia fee” payment to whatever cartel controls that spot, authorities say.
Mr. McAleenan said it can be a $500 payment just to set foot in the Rio Grande itself.
The commissioner also told the committee that the family separations that shocked the county last year have almost completely ended, with only about one child a day still being separated, out of an average of 1,400 families a day.
He said those separations that do occur at this point happen because border agents or officers believe the child would be at risk if left in the custody of the adult.
Those children are then turned over to the Health and Human Services Department to be held in dorm-like shelters until they can be placed with sponsors in the U.S.
Last year, thousands of children were separated during the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, which saw the government step up prosecutions of illegal immigrant parents caught jumping the border. When the parents were prosecuted, it meant they went into the criminal justice system, and that meant their children had to be separated and sent to the same HHS facilities.