It is the rare government report that informs its readers about how much we do not know, but it is an even rarer consultant’s report, commissioned by an arm of the federal government, that says, the evidence suggests that a key premise of the investigation was wrong.
But, if I read it correctly, both of these rare distinctions belong to a recent RAND Corporation report, Human Smuggling and Associated Revenues, a study of the trafficking of humans from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to our southern border, commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security.
The assignment for the RAND research team seems to have been, tell us how much money the human trafficking cartels are making bringing people to or across the U.S.-Mexico border. The assumption here is that human smuggling is like drug smuggling and is controlled by disciplined, organized criminal cartels.
But what the research team found was, there are no human trafficking cartels, just a few from-there-to-here full-service smuggling networks, and a lot more piecework service providers moving migrants on a place-to-place-to-place pilgrimage north.
All these moving parts sometimes compete, sometimes co-operate, sometimes go off on their own – making calculating how much money was siphoned off by whom, hard to do.
The only place that cartels figure in the migrant racket is the piso, the tax the drug cartels charge for each migrant that passes through their territory. And what the RAND study found is that this tax generated only pennies on the dollars made by the actual people smugglers. To me this indicates how not only distant, but disinterested, even disdainful the drug cartelistas are when it comes to the whole migration phenomenon.
Blas Nuñez-Neto is a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, and an expert in homeland and border security, travel, and international trade policy. Prior to joining RAND, he served as a senior advisor to the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for more than two years. His portfolio included international affairs and relations, travel and trade facilitation and enforcement, and border management. He also served as a key member of the administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
Prior to CBP, Nuñez-Neto worked for more than 11 years in Congress researching these issues for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Congressional Research Service (CRS). In the U.S. Senate, he was the chief advisor for the chairman on all issues related to border security, immigration enforcement, international screening, and preventing terrorist travel. He conducted oversight over federal agencies and programs, drafted and negotiated legislation, organized committee hearings, and authored committee reports and member statements.