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Human Smuggling and Associated Revenues: What Do or Can We Know About Routes from Central America to the United States

Descriptive Note:

Technical Report

Corporate Author:

Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center, RAND Arlington United States

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This report presents initial findings from a scoping study titled Economic Value of Human Smuggling to Transnational Criminal Organizations. A primary goal of this study, which was completed in less than two months, was to develop a preliminary estimate of transnational criminal organizations TCOs revenues from smuggling migrants from the Northern Triangle region of Central America--consisting of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador--to the United States. In addition, we sought to establish what is known or knowable about the characteristics, including the structure, operations, and financing, of TCOs that engage in human smuggling along those routes. From the start, we intended to frame any revenue estimate as a range to accommodate a short study period and considerable uncertainty however, as the research progressed, we encountered further challenges. We learned that human smuggling involves many different types of actors and that we could not credibly distinguish most TCOs activities and revenues from those of other actors, including ad hoc groups and independent operators, that engage in human smuggling. Thus, we could provide, at best, a range for revenues to all types of smugglers, largely irrespective of their affiliations. Although our findings are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, they represent a contribution to the evidence base informing ongoing U.S. government efforts to address threats to homeland security posed by TCOs and other actors that participate in human smuggling. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security DHS can use the insights provided in this report regarding the characteristics of human-smuggling operations to help shape policies and prioritize resources to counter that threat. The findings will also be of interest to others in the policy community, including those who undertake research on its behalf.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Civil Defense

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