Human and Drug Trafficking Across the US-Mexico Border

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Human and drug trafficking on the US-Mexico border is an immediate threat to both illegal immigrants and US citizens. Drug cartels seemingly have more authority than police in the border region and minors are targeted for sex work and marriage, which subsequently results in an alarming rate of teenage pregnancies. The porous border allows for illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine to seep into our country-and eventually, each state, county, community, and many schools. A majority of Americans impacted by the overwhelming flow of illegal drugs coming across the border are high schoolers.

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A lack of border security is dangerous. Many Mexican cities are plagued with drug abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and human exploitation- and much of this is brought with immigrants as they cross the US-Mexico border illegally.

As a result of Mexico’s geographical location, it “is a major source, transit, and destination country for sexually exploited minors.” Some of the main factors that contribute to the overwhelming amount of sexual exploitation of women and girls in Mexico include illiteracy, extreme poverty and unemployment levels, and unaccompanied migration. Additional vulnerabilities include childhood marriage and or adolescent pregnancy. Child sex trafficking is an epidemic for all of Mexico, but it is also close to home. US-Mexico border cities, Tijuana and Cuidad Juarez have an estimated 15,000 female sex workers (FSWs) residing within them. Of these 15,000, 603 were surveyed about their experiences as a minor. ¼ were sex trafficked at an age younger than 18, ? experienced a pregnancy prior to the age of 16, and ? were married before the age of 16 (Boyce, et al).

From August 2013 to October 2014, a similar survey of 20 FSWs was also conducted in Tijuana and Cuidad Juarez. In this survey, FSWs with a history of involvement in sex work before age 18, completed in-depth interviews about their history in sex work. This study found that sexual and physical abuse, teen pregnancy, and family dysfunction were key factors that contributed to the vulnerability of most minors and their entry into sex work (Servin, et al).

In 2009, two bar owners in Long Island, New York named Antonio Rivera and Jasmin Rivera, were arrested and charged with forcing women into prostitution. Since 2007, the defendants had been luring women into prostitution. Most of the victims were illegal immigrants from Central America who began sex work as young as 17 years old. According to the federal report, “After the women began working in the bars, the complaint alleged the defendants forced them to engage in sex acts with patrons in exchange for money, with the defendants keeping half. When the women refused or resisted, the defendants used physical force, including rape and assaults, and threatened to report the women to immigration authorities” (Winzelberg)

The US-Mexico border is a hub for sex trafficking and prostitution which contributes to both the HIV epidemic in the region and growing risk of HIV developing in the lives of female sex workers (Collins, et al). Drug users are typically more susceptible to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as well as other sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, which is common among women who use drugs. This suggests that drug use may be a marker for high-risk sexual activity. However, syphilis can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, which can take place during the sharing of needles. Regardless of the circumstances under which syphilis is acquired, it is a threat to the safety of immigrants and US citizens (Loza, et al).

Mexico continually proves itself to be a safe haven for gangs who sometimes rule an entire town. Kidnappings occur frequently, elected officials are often assassinated, and beheadings are far too common. These atrocities are not far from home. Within a 2 year time period, 2,400 or more people can be killed as a result of drug and gang violence. In July of 2010, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called for action on our southern border. He claimed there was a need for federal funding on the Texas border because “it is more dangerous to walk to the streets of Juarez than to walk the streets of Bhagdad” (Antal). Similarly, in 2009, the Attorney General under the Obama administration, Eric Holder, announced that there was a disruption of American operations of a Mexican drug cartel. This operation lasted for two years and during that time, 750 people were arrested for their involvement in the cartel’s illegal drug smuggling, and 12,000 kilograms of cocaine were seized (ABC Premium News).

According to Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff from Maricopa County, “Illegal immigration is so lucrative that drug gangs have not only gotten into the business, but they have begun to dominate it” (25). Vicious gangs, usually originating from Latin America, control border cities and flood our border and our country with illegal drugs and unnecessary violence (Arpaio 24). In one instance, Joe Arpaio’s team was tracking two drug dealers whose information they had gotten from a teenager trying to get off of heroin (Arpaio 69). They bought heroin from the dealers 6 times, for prices ranging from $40 to $60. Eventually, after much surveillance, the detectives decided to contact some of the customers. One customer was a 17-year-old girl who cooperated and admitted to using heroin for about a year (Arpaio 70). The surveillance continued and more teenagers were interviewed. Eventually, 11 drug dealers were discovered and arrested. The drug dealers targeted high school students and many of the users admitted that heroin and cocaine were readily available in the school bathrooms (Arpaio 71). All of the dealers were Mexican citizens who found themselves in the US by way of illegal immigration. 18 high school students were arrested, seven of whom faced charges of possession of narcotics because they did not cooperate with the investigation. Because of illegal immigration, 18 teenagers faced avoidable chaos and legal predicaments (Arpaio 72).

Looking specifically at the drugs being trafficked across the US-Mexico border, most people might be surprised that in 2017, it was estimated that there were more than 70,000 US citizens who died as a result of the opioid epidemic and the number one culprit for those deaths, was fentanyl-laced heroin, which was produced by Mexican and or Central American drug cartels. The number of US citizens who have lost their lives to Mexican Drug Cartel Heroin is greater than the number of lives lost in the entire Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan combined and many of the victims of this epidemic are US inner city and suburban high school students. This particular heroin is often brought across the border illegally via smugglers called mules. They might carry the heroin for pay, but many smuggle it in simply because it is the price they pay for entry into the United States. Too many lives are lost as a result of our porous and unsafe border (PR Newswire).

Border towns and illegal border crossings- an unprecedented danger. Violence including kidnappings and killings have escalated on the border as drug cartels battle for turf (ABC Premium News) and the majority of illegal crossing into the US are motivated by the convenience for the movement of illicit goods, drug smuggling, or human trafficking (John Antal).

Illegal immigration is an immediate threat and should be treated as one. In 2017, then President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto condemned President Trump’s call for a border wall on our Southern border, but President Trump and many Americans still stand behind the cause. In 2017, there were an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States who originally immigrated from Latin America. Because we have no records for each of these people, we cannot come to a conclusion as to whether or not they are involved in human or drug trafficking, making our understanding and knowledge of the particulars of these epidemics unclear. As if the danger of human lives is not enough, in 2017, President Trump also began looking into suspected voter fraud committed by non-citizens who voted in the 2016 presidential election (Waikato Times).

To summarize, Mexican cities are home to intense crime, violence, drug abuse, and human exploitation. Border cities are often said to be less safe than war-torn middle eastern countries (Antal), and women and girls report that several experienced sexual exploitation, pregnancy, and or marriage at ages younger than 18 years of age (Servin et al). Many fall victim to sex work and exploitation because of social factors as mentioned, but many are also uneducated and have very few options for financial survival (Boyce et al). Sex work is a career for many women and sexually transmitted infections are spread seemingly exponentially (Loza et al). Vulnerable women who enter sex work, are likely to find themselves victims of sex trafficking and involuntary exploitation, which is both a concern for immigrants who are put in this situation and American citizens who are influenced by the influx of exploitation in our communities (Boyce, et al). American high school students use heavily addictive drugs that would not have had a passage into our country if our border did not allow for an intense flow of drugs via coyotes to corrupt our schools and their students (Arpaio 72) and largely because of fentynal-laced heroin originating from Latin America, 70,000 people died from what is called the opioid epidemic (PR Newswire).

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Human and Drug Trafficking Across the US-Mexico Border. (2021, Jul 10). Retrieved from