Monday, September 19, 2011



Note: a NPR-like look at situation, but they do admit the cartels
control the business now.

Violence, Increased Security Change Smuggling Along Border
By Ruxandra Guidi
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Audio clip
Violence, Increased Security Change Smuggling Along Border

By Jose Luis Jiménez
Grupo Beta Agent Mario Lopez gets supplies from the SUV he uses to
patrol the U.S.-Mexico border from Playas de Tijuana to Tecate
looking for migrants in distress.

SAN DIEGO — Mario Lopez pulls his bright orange Jeep over on the side
of a major freeway in Tijuana. He points to the double fence
separating his city from San Diego, and shows a group of reporters
the area that used to be a major smuggling route back in the 90s.

Lopez has been an agent with Grupo Beta since it was founded in 1991.
Grupo Beta is a government agency that started out as a unit composed
of 45 law enforcement officers with a unique mission: to protect
northbound migrants from criminals. Much like the police, they took
complaints from migrants who were abused and extorted by the smugglers.

But that was then, when smuggling was a thriving mom-and-pop
business. There were dozens of local smuggling operations making as
much as $250,000 a week on smuggling fees, charging up to $2,000 a
head. Today, says Lopez, there is stricter border security and the
illegal crossing business is in the hands of the cartels, who charge
up to $10,000 and $15,000. And there's nothing Grupo Beta can do
about it.

"Smuggling has decreased through this part of the border by almost 90
percent… Now there is more surveillance, there's a second border
wall, there are guards patrolling by horse, motorcycle, cars, there
are cameras, sensors…" said Lopez.

On a typical day, Lopez still patrols along the Mexico side of the
border. He doesn't take complaints because the border is too
dangerous. Instead, he and his fellow agents focus on handing out
food and providing first aid to migrants, if they need it. Grupo Beta
is now, essentially, a force without much power and without much of a

Carlos Diaz de Leon, a 35-year-old migrant from Sonora, realizes that
Lopez is a Beta agent. He extends his hand towards him, showing a
folded-up deportation slip.

Diaz de Leon says he's crossed illegally, with and without the help
of smugglers multiple times over the years. He wouldn't talk about
his smugglers. But Grupo Beta, he said, has always been there to help

By Jose Luis Jiménez
Grupo Beta Agent Mario Lopez speaks to Carlos Diaz DeLeon, who was
recently deported from Los Angeles.

"They have fed me when I was hungry…They've given me change when I
needed to call home. I think they're the only ones out there looking
out for undocumented migrants," said de Leon.

But twenty years ago, Beta had a very different reputation.

"It's been many years since we don't hear any complaints or
allegations of corruption by members of Grupo Beta, like used to be
the case in the 90s," said Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the
Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana.

In 1994, Clark Alfaro's research led to the arrest of Grupo Beta's
director and five members of his staff who got kickbacks from
smuggling groups. A series of purges have helped to clean up the
agency since then, but Clark Alfaro says it's difficult to keep track
of who is profiting from the smuggling business today.

"The violence and insecurity on the border has pushed groups like
ours to stop many of our investigations. It's too risky to really
research the smuggling business of today - it was hard enough in the
80s and 90s."

The tightened U.S. border security of the last ten years has had an
unintended impact: It has professionalized the smuggling business,
drawing in increasingly violent gangs and drug cartels.

By Jose Luis Jiménez
Migrants recently deported from the U.S. gather at the Grupo Beta
facilities near the border in Tijuana.

In the last year, more than 150 migrants' bodies were found in the
state of Tamaulipas, 80 miles south of the Texas border. It is one of
the worst known mass killings in Mexico of the last decade. The
killings by the Zetas cartel sparked concern about the vulnerability
of poor migrants, and about the rapidly-evolving role of drug cartels.

Five hundred feet from the border fence in San Diego is a big parking
lot. Three red and white pickup trucks are parked here, ready to take
off later in the evening. They're headed to the Sonora desert in
Arizona to deliver medical supplies, second-hand clothes and food to
migrants lost along the border.

Rafael Hernandez is the founder of the civilian, volunteer-run Desert
Angels, a 14-year-old rescue group on the U.S. side.

Hernandez regularly fields calls from family members of migrants lost
in the desert - from small-time smugglers and sometimes, from alleged
cartel members, too. He acknowledges that migrants' crossings may be
at a 40-year low, but he says they are paying more to cross illegally
these days and at a much greater risk than in the past.

"Along the way, they are mugged, kidnapped, raped," said Hernandez.
"That's the situation today. Grupo Beta cannot do anything because
that's U.S. territory; border enforcement agencies do respond when
someone points it out to them. But for groups like ours, it's very
compromising to say that we know illegal activity is happening
somewhere along the border."

The consequences of speaking out about the smuggling or the violence
against migrants would be terrible, said Hernandez.

Billions spent on border infrastructure and law enforcement over the
last decade have had a great impact on the smuggling business. But
more than anything else, it has made it a much more dangerous game
for all involved.

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