Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico Border Edit

The debate about human and drug trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing new. The purpose of this page to is to inform individuals about what happens on the U.S.-Mexico border regarding trafficking and the different kinds of trafficking. The information provided is contextualized by the historical, cultural, and economic characteristics of smuggling and trafficking.

Human Trafficking Edit

Human smuggling and trafficking have a lot of in common, such as techniques as how they are smuggled across the borders, but there is significant difference. The difference between smuggling and trafficking is that human trafficking is forced and smuggling tends to be more voluntary. Human trafficking involves the deception and the coercion of another person for sexual exploitation and labor purposes as well as other forms of debasement (Shirk and Webber). This is a very violent and traumatic experience for those that are forced into human trafficking. It is also extremely common amongst women and young girls.

What Happens? Edit



The movie Trade is about the human trafficking process between the United States and Mexico. The film shows how dangerous the process is and how it can be extremely difficult.

In the film Trade, the viewer is given a honest depiction of what human trafficking is like. For example, the main girl in the film is a young girl. For her thirteenth birthday, her brother bought her a bicycle and she decided to ride it around town that day, even after her mother told her that she did not want her doing so. As she is biking, a car begins to follow her. The two men in the vehicle run her over and kidnap her. As the story goes on, the audience is introduced to the horrors of human trafficking. The young girl is forced to take drugs, perform sexual labor, and live in horrible conditions. A segment of the movie focuses on the difficulties that come with crossing the border into the United States. After several failed attempts, the human traffickers successfully smuggled those that were being trafficked, into the United States.  When they finally crossed, another man met up with them and began transporting them north. This demonstrates how the process can be extremely long and difficult and how there are people on both sides of the border that are working for the human trafficking business.

Culture, The Economy, and History Edit

In many parts of Mexico, prostitution remains essentially legal. The reason for this is because there are red light districts that are recognized. In these districts, “pimping and child exploitation are practiced widely without arrest or prosecution” (Shirk and Webber). The lack of prosecution creates the preconception that these kinds of acts are normal and acceptable, and therefore human trafficking is nothing out of the ordinary. This has been a trend throughout history. Another factor contributing to the prominence of human trafficking that plays a role in the reason that human trafficking is so common within Mexico is that many women are marginalized and exploited socially and economically. Many individuals, mostly women, are being manipulated into finding other jobs that tend to pay more and would be more beneficial for them and their families because of the social oppressions that are present. This is well known by the traffickers, which is why they often make false promises to the women. “Field work indicates that false promise of employment as well as an exotic life in cities of Mexico and United States is a common tactic for traffickers” (Acharya). Because over 40 percent of Mexico’s population is in poverty (Shirk and Webber), women often look for alternatives such as working in red light districts as prostitutes or accepting false promises by “business men” who claim they can provide a lavish lifestyle for them on top of a better job. With that being said, the reason that women are more susceptible to human trafficking is because of the marginalization, gender discrimination, and inequalities.

Human Smuggling Edit

Human smuggling is a method that has been used as a way to illegally transport migrants across the

In Pinal County (AZ), there are several signs written in english which states, "Travel Caution- Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered In This Area."

United State and Mexico border for many years. The purpose of this is for migrants to find a better life in the United States and start over. Human smugglers, also known as coyotes, seem to provide this “better life” for migrants. Coyotes make material and financial profit from helping individuals cross the borders. Although the outcome is potentially beneficial for those being smuggled across the border, the process is extremely difficult, and costly.

Use of Coyotes Edit

There are many reasons migrants have the desire to leave Mexico and head north to the United States. These reasons include poverty, violence, and the opportunity to provide a better life for their families. Coyotes prey on the desperation of migrants so they tend to take advantage of this and charge extreme amounts of money. Although the potential migrants are aware they are being taken advantage of, they and believe it is worth every cent because they know that a successful crossing usually depends on a hired and experienced guide. Since the success rate tends to have risen, the use of smugglers has gone up. “According to AP’s analysis, of those who said they crossed the border through one of three major Arizona corridors, 55% hired a smuggler last year. That compared to 28% in 2003 and 18% in 2000” (Spagat). Because of the high demand for smuggling, coyotes are able to charge extreme amounts for their service. For instance, coyotes will usually charge around $1,600 to sneak people in through the mountains of Tecate and $2,500 to let someone hide in their car trunk (Spagat). This is a lot of money for someone who is in need of a better life economically. It is also expensive for something that is not guaranteed to be successful, but the coyotes do not care. The migrants are under the coyotes power because the coyotes already have the money from the migrants. Because of their overwhelming power over the migrants, allows coyotes to abuse their power.

Smuggling Conditions Edit


Two individuals being smuggled by car. They are laying in the engine compartment of a vehicle.

An example where coyotes abuse their power can be found the film Crossing Arizona. In this, they document the cruel conditions many migrants are forced to endure. The film shows pictures of an eight-month pregnant woman that had died during the process of crossing the border. It is assumed that the coyotes had left her to die because she could not keep up with the rest of the group. Coyotes will often leave their “customers” for other reasons as well. These reasons include the first sight of U.S. Border Patrol and poor weather conditions (Francis).  When the migrants’ guides abandon them, they are forced to either continue on by themselves when they have no idea where they are going or hope they get picked up by border patrol.  “They’d walk into hell trying to escape the Border Patrol, and now they were praying to get caught” (Urrea; 14). The reason that the migrants hope to be picked up by Border Patrol is because they know that they will be taken back to Mexico and would no longer be stuck in the middle of a desert with little to no resources.

Drug Trafficking Edit

It is well known across the world that Mexico plays a prominent role in drug trafficking. Drug trafficking involves the transportation, distribution and sale of drugs that are subject to drug prohibition laws. There has been an ongoing development in the sophistication of drug trafficking over the years in order for Mexico to remain one of the most influential drug traffickers in the world. New drug trafficking routes are constantly being created in the attempt to improve productivity of drug movement and generate more income. With a number of cartels operating along the border it is has been necessary for police forces to try and control the trafficking of illegal substances. Even with further border militarization, the movement of illegal drugs has continued to travel across the border. Drug trafficking has been a concern since the 1900’s and has yet to be solved.

History Edit

In the 19th and early 20th century, drugs such as marijuana, opiates and cocaine were commonly used in Mexico for both recreational and medical purposes. At this time small amounts of drugs were being transported and sold in the U.S. Concerns about the quality of these products and health concerns lead to U.S political forces banning these substances. With several drugs such as cocaine being classified as “illegal” in the early 1900’s, the trafficking of drugs remained minimal during this period. In 1914 the US approved “The Harrison Narcotics Act” in the aim of controlling opium consumption. This act also attempted to inform and change drug laws all around the world. At this time, revolutionary Mexican leaders were fighting for political survival and so controlling drug trafficking was not their highest concern. With one side of the border (U.S) prohibiting the use of drugs and the other side of the border (Mexico) disregarding the issue, the conditions for drugs trafficking was created.

Illegality/Cartels Edit

Cartel smuggling routes

Drug trafficking routes and cartel territories.

The illegal classification of certain drugs started a movement that would end up spiraling out of control. In 1920, Mexico had stopped commercializing drug culture and banned or limited drugs that the U.S had previously banned. This had created a further gap in the drug market that needed to be filled. By the 1970’s, many drug cartels had formed to try and fill this gap in the market. Cocaine, which was once a legal commodity, became a high demand in both Mexico and the U.S. The drug cartels would manufacture a product and then distribute in Mexico and in the U.S. Cartels are an association that try to maintain high prices for their product and restrict competition. With the drug trafficking industry becoming worth billions of dollars, many organizations formed to try and receive a share of this money. With many cartels being formed, conflict became inevitable. Fighting for control of territory and trafficking routes are common issues. Names of the largest drug cartel rivalries include, Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel, Milenio Cartel, Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, Tijuana Cartel and Juárez Cartel. These, as well as many other cartels continue to try and maximize their profits, by minimizing competition. This conflict entails the widespread use of weaponry such as guns. With cartel conflict breaking out, the trafficking of firearms has been greatly affected. There is a high demand for guns from the cartel in order to secure their safety and display their authority. The U.S have made it their job to supply these much needed weapons to Mexico that in turn find there way in to the hands of the cartel. “The United States supplies Mexico with 70 to 90 percent of the weapons used in the drug war. Mexico prohibits the sale of guns so more than 6,700 licensed gun dealers along the Mexican-US border fill the demand”.  It can therefore be argued that the U.S are fueling drug trafficking and further drug related violence. The desire for both countries to acquire large sums of money has influenced their decisions.

Money/Corruption Edit


Film - Miss Bala. Drug money strapped to a women for transportation.

The large amounts of money involved in the drug trafficking industry has caused many people to take risks. Drug trafficking is not only illegal, but also extremely dangerous. Being caught with possession of legal substances can have life long consequences in prison. Many smugglers are forced to hide or mask drugs in order to get across the border. Ways of hiding drugs include, storing them in the seats of a car, in the floor of a van, in drinks bottles and in food containers. Ways of going unidentified with possession of drugs are also constantly being created. People have also stored drugs in their bodies. Taking risks that can have detrimental effects on your body if something goes wrong, shows how hungry these drug traffickers are. Beside hiding drugs, drug traffickers have also found another way to smuggle drugs across the border. The corruption in Mexico’s political system has allowed for drugs traffickers to make deals with officers on the border. Cartels have made relationships with Mexicans and U.S officers to maintain the flow of transportation.  “For seventy-one years, Mexico was controlled by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI). Ties between the PRI and illegal drug traders began in the first half of the twentieth century during Prohibition, and by the end of World War II the relationship between drug traffickers and the ruling party had solidified” (Redmond). The economical situation of some workers on the border is not substantial, so money from the cartel is able to help their support their life. With drugs traffickers being let across the border in to the U.S, it seems improbable that drug trafficking will decrease anytime soon.  “It is impossible to break up the traffic in drugs because of the corruption of the police and special agents and because of the wealth and political influence of some of the traffickers” (Redmond) 

Response to drug trafficking Edit

Drug war

Public protest against the drug war.

The high amount of drug trafficking activity has caused for anti-drug campaigns to form. There have been different methods aimed at eradicating the growth, transportation and use of illegal drugs.  The Mexican government has previously used airplanes, jeeps, weapons, and helicopters to monitor smugglers and destroy growing plants of drugs. “In 1976, five thousand soldiers and airmen were involved in the anti-drug campaign. The number was ten thousand in 1977” (Astorga). The militarization of drugs has increased over time as drug trafficking continues to thrive. The amount of territory that drugs in Mexico and the U.S cover is extremely large and so it has been a very difficult task to control. There have been public protests to stop the trafficking of drugs and violence within the cartels. The dangers of the drug trafficking business affect more than those who are directly involved. The public is also in danger from the drug related violence as they are living in the same vicinity. Anti-drug campaigns have helped improve awareness of drug activity in the borderlands and capture cartel members. As the issue affects both the U.S and Mexico, both countries have created initiative to combat the problem. “The United States funds the carnage in Mexico through the Mérida Initiative, a $1.9 billion counter narcotics program; with an additional $13 million from the Defense Department. Mexican security forces are trained in counter¬terrorism techniques to track, capture, or kill drug cartel members” (Redmond). Such initiatives have helped improve the drug trafficking situation, but the problem it is still far from being terminated.

Videos Edit

Report on the operations and dynamics within the infamous Sinaloa cartel.

Photos Edit

Sources Edit

Acharya, Arun K. "Forced Labour, Gender Violence and Trafficking of Women in Mexico: A Study From Monterry." (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Astorga, Luis. "Drug Trafficking in Mexico - Discussion Paper 36." Drug Trafficking in Mexico - Discussion Paper 36. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2014.

Francis, David. "Mexican Drug Cartels Move Into Human Smuggling." SFGATE. N.p., n.d. Web.

Redmond, Helen. "The Political Economy of Mexico's Drug War." Issue #94. International Socialist Review, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

Shirk, David, and Alexandra Webber. "Slavery Without Border: Human Trafficking in the U.S.-Mexican Context." Hemisphere Focus 12.5 (2004): n. pag. Web.

Spagat, Elliot. "Border Crackdow Fuels Smuggers' Boom on U.S.-Mexico Line." USA Today, n.d. Web.

Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil's Highway: A True Story. New York: Little, Brown, 2004. Print.

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