Women as people-smugglers and traffickers

The UN recently released yet another report on trafficking which says:

a disproportionate number of women are involved in human trafficking, not only as victims (which we knew), but also as traffickers (first documented here). Female offenders have a more prominent role in present-day slavery than in most other forms of crime.

Sillies . . . if they only had listened to what some of us were saying from the beginning, they wouldn’t find themselves so surprised now. By which I mean that those who help move people around in informal networks are very often friends and relations of the people doing the moving, so why shouldn’t they be women as often as men? If you take away Crime as the framing of this sort of movement, then you don’t have to expect the criminals to be men. The work of smuggling does not require particular physical strength. As an article about coyotes on the Mexico-US border shows, women can be highly adept at people smuggling and trafficking.

Note in the following excerpts that the words trafficking and smuggling are used interchangeably. The original story was published in Spanish, where what English-speakers are calling trafficking is often called la trata and smuggling el tráfico or el contrabando. The article is not about that dread term sex trafficking, and as you’ll see, those trafficked are not seen as victims. I’ve highlighted some suggestive quotations in bold.

Women Are the New Coyotes

La Opinión,  Claudia Núñez, 23 December 2007

Gaviota has six phones that don’t stop ringing. Her booming business produces net profits of more than $50,000 a month. She has dozens of customers lining up for her in a datebook stretching three months ahead.

“The old story of the man who runs the ‘coyotaje’ business is now just a myth. It’s finally coming out that the big business of human trafficking is in female hands. As long as they make it known that they are women, they have lots of business all along the border,” explains Marissa Ugarte, a psychologist, lecturer and founder of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition of San Diego, Calif.

Female coyotes tend to employ other women – most of them single mothers – to line up customers, arrange food and lodging for the undocumented, and participate in cross-border money laundering.

“A real ‘coyote’ organizes everything for you. From who and where to take the ‘goats’ across, and where they will stay on this side of the border, to who will deliver them to the door of the customer (the immigrant’s family). The other ones who just take you across the river or through the desert – those bastards are just sleazebags . . .  says Gaviota, whose smuggling network operates in Laredo, Tex. and transports migrants into the United States at border crossings or across the Rio Grande, depending on the customer’s budget.

“The business is a real money-maker,” says Ramón Rivera, a DHS spokesperson in Washington, D.C. “These women inspire confidence in the immigrants and when the authorities stop them and take them to court, they give them shorter sentences because they are mothers, daughters, because they are women. . . .

“I took my first ‘chickens’ across when I was nine years old, and when I grew up I started moving drugs across the border. My mother taught us the business and made us tough. She hated poverty. For her, power was everything,” says Cristal, daughter of the notorious drug smuggler Rosa Emma Carvajal Ontiveros, . . . And like their male counterparts, female coyotes engage in extortion and bribery – of both Mexican and American authorities – which are prerequisites for setting up and maintaining human trafficking rings.

In this business, everybody gets a share. The ministries, the Border Patrol and the narcos. You have to keep them happy so they let you do your job. Here, no money means no business,” says Adamaris, a young woman in El Paso, Tex. As she tells it, her children’s hunger drove her to turn her home into a “safe house” where more than 500 undocumented migrants have passed through in less than a year.

In addition to bribing federal agents, the women coyotes must also fill so-called “quotas” – monthly payments ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 – demanded by members of the major drug smuggling cartels, in order to be allowed to operate.

According to the women La Opinión interviewed – all U.S. citizens except Adamaris – many female coyotes smuggle migrants through the border crossings, rather than the mountains or the desert. “It costs more but it’s safer. That’s why they come to us. We don’t mess around with walking for three lousy days in the desert, but you gotta have balls to take people across the border,” says Margarita, who limits herself to smuggling women and children through California border crossings.

“We all got into this business out of necessity. Some of us are single mothers, and others have husbands in jail. The fact of the matter is that we’re all on our own. What bastards are gonna blame us for what we do? Who wouldn’t do the same thing if the miserable pay you get in a factory couldn’t be stretched far enough to feed your kids, and you find you can get twice the money for just giving a drink or taking care of a goddamn ‘chicken’ (an undocumented migrant)? Anybody who blames us has never seen their kids cry out of hunger,” affirms Esperanza, who smuggles undocumented migrants, money and narcotics in the Nogales, Ariz. region.

As Esperanza says, women’s stories of smuggling must not remain untold, because, she says, “Getting laid by the coolest guy at the party isn’t worth it if your gang doesn’t know about it.”

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