Border Smuggler Fees Rise as DHS Apprehensions Drop

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WESLACO – A federal agency said the cost of crossing the border illegally is on the rise.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the numbers they’re seeing at the border are down, while smuggling fees are going up. The agency hopes it means fewer immigrants are dealing with smugglers.

Recent federal court records show how money paid to smugglers can add up to the thousands.

A Central American crossing the border illegally in Alto Bonito told agents he paid $21,000 to make it to the U.S., according to court documents.

In another case, smugglers told authorities they were getting paid $1,000 per person to get them through the Falfurrias checkpoint.

Nineteen-year-old Elisa Fuentes said she paid for silence.

“We paid so people wouldn’t say that we were crossing illegally,” she said.

Fuentes didn’t disclose how much she paid her smuggler.

In recent months, people who crossed the border illegally told us they pay an average of $5,000. Many said they had to borrow from family members or sell their homes.

The immigrants said they spent the money for hotels, transportation and to cross the Rio Grande.

Fuentes said she paid $100 to cross the river.

The Trump administration tightened down on immigration and ordered no more catch-and-release in order to expedite processing for new detainees.

“They have to be sent back. So, they have no choice, but do what they can to stay in the U.S.,” said former FBI agent Art Fontes.

He said many try not to get caught after having spent a fortune to cross illegally.

“These people want to ram the car, and the Border Patrol shoots at the vehicle. I’ve responded to one or two incidents where that happens,” he said.

Last year, CHANNEL 5 NEWS reported several immigrants broke into a Rio Grande City home to avoid getting caught.

Fuentes said she had no choice other than to flee from Honduras. She said gangs in country were charging rent on her home.

“If you don’t pay, they remove you,” she said.

The Central American woman said it’s another reason why she’ll avoid going back.

DHS said smugglers fees have gone up from $3,500 to almost $8,000 since November. 

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