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US officials say massive smuggling effort is speeding immigrants to — and across — the southern border

US officials say massive smuggling effort is speeding immigrants to — and across — the southern border

Criminal organizations in Mexico have mounted a lucrative new smuggling operation that uses express buses to deliver Guatemalan migrant families to the U.S. border in a matter of days, making the journey faster, easier and safer, according to U.S. law enforcement reports and U.S. and Guatemalan officials.

The smugglers entice families with promises their journey will be free of the perils usually associated with travel to the U.S. border, along with assurances that by turning themselves in to U.S. authorities they will be released into the country within days.

Paying up to $7,000 per adult with child, families are transported to staging areas at ranches and hotels in southern Mexico, where they are organized into bus groups and rushed north along Mexican highways, “stopping only for food, fuel and bathroom breaks,” according to the U.S. law enforcement documents.

The model particularly appeals to families by minimizing some of the more intimidating and unsavory aspects of traditional Mexican smuggling operations, known for cramming migrants into squalid stash houses, where Central Americans are regularly abused and extorted for additional payments. The busing system has skirted those dangers, generating few reports of violence or mistreatment, U.S. officials say.

Within 72 hours of leaving the staging areas, the buses arrive at predetermined drop-off points within walking distance of the U.S. border. Migrant families are clustered into groups that have at times exceeded 300 adults and children, and they walk directly across the border, in some cases stepping over barriers in long, orderly lines. They then surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents and initiate asylum claims.