SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Mexico—Smugglers in sunglasses and muscle shirts reclined on withering patches of grass in a tree-covered plaza, blending into clusters of migrants and offering them “safe” trips into the United States.
But on this sweltering day, there were no takers. None of the Mexicans hoping to reach the United States could pay the $3,000 the smugglers demanded to hide them in a car and drive them across the border, a trip that just weeks ago cost $2,000.
The sharp increase in smugglers’ fees is due to the arrival of National Guard troops at the border and plans by Washington for even greater border security, all of which will make the sometimes deadly trip into the United States even more difficult and dangerous. The higher fees have convinced some to cancel plans to sneak into the United States, while others have decided to go it alone.
Mexican and U.S. authorities are already seeing a drop in illegal migration, although it isn’t clear if that will last.
Border experts argue the downturn may be temporary while smugglers search for new routes through deadlier terrain and migrants come up with the money to pay the higher fees.
“With all this new security, it is obvious the migrant flow will have to move to more dangerous routes, and smugglers are using this argument to increase their prices,” said Francisco Garcia, a volunteer at a migrant shelter in Altar, a farming town of 7,000 that has become a major gathering point for those heading to Arizona.