Smugglers Are Using the California Desert to Transport Migrants Through the Border

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: May 01, 2024

A strange new trend in border crossings has California officials worried that the vast desert has become a safe haven for smugglers.

Known to many people as “coyotes”, the smugglers will often take a family’s life savings and promise them safe passage to the United States.

History of Coyotes in the United States

Many of the smuggling operations that bring migrants from Mexico to the United States are controlled by the drug cartel.

A large metal wall next to dry brush and a tall birds eye view tower

Source: Tomascastelazo/Wikipedia Commons

Paying a coyote for guidance through the U.S. border does not guarantee safe passageway. The smugglers and travelers are often caught and deported by border patrol. As well, the cartel gang members might force migrants into further illegal activity to move their drug supply, resulting in more legal action.

Huge Surge at the Southern Border

Last fall, the Biden administration saw one of the largest surges of migrant crossings that they have ever seen.

A group of migrants walk along railroad tricks next to tall grass and short trees

Source: Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

In Texas, the border authorities stationed in Texas apprehended more than 225,000 migrants attempting to enter the country in December. The highest total in a single month since 2000.

Freight Trains Used to Transport Migrants

One of the easiest ways that migrants were able to find their way into the United States was to jump on top of freight trains passing through the northern mountains of Mexico.

A red and yellow train car with graffiti in the middle of the desert

Source: Freight Benching in SoCal/Wikipedia Commons

The trains often have minimal supervision and often just have one conductor who are unable to mitigate the situation.

Increased Migrant Activity Signals Poor Economic Conditions in Southern Countries

Although the movement of people across borders remains constant and ever changing, the conditions causing the surges follow a predictable pattern.

A group of migrants stand on one side of a fence covered in razor wire next to a body of water filled with garbage. On the other side of the fence stands two female military officers

Source: @Laszlo99659/X

Last fall during the massive surge, US officials say that the economic downturn in Mexico was partly to blame. Poverty, conflicts, inequality, gang violence, and family reunification all contribute to a reason why someone will try and cross the border.

Texas and Florida Officials Cracked Down

Both Florida and Texas passed restrictive laws in the past few months to make it illegal to enter illegally into a foreign country.

A man wearing army fatigues carries a machine gun while patrolling a wall made of barbed wire

Source: @GregAbbott_TX/X

Along with guards carrying whips on horses, Texas has done everything it can to make crossing the border as difficult as possible for migrants. Governor Abbot was also criticized for sending thousands of migrants on buses to northern states like Illinois and New York.


Border Crossings Remain Low Around the Country

Since December of this year, the total number of border crossings by migrants is down by around 40%, with a massive dip in the month of March.

A wall made of large metal pipes next to a sandy and brush filled desert

Source: Amyyfory/Wikipedia Commons

The Border Patrol in the south apprehended almost 137,000 illegal migrants. This number is down from around 141,000 in February, and continues to decline.


California Desert a Popular New Crossing

A new shift in movement shows that smugglers have identified a weakness in the California and Arizona deserts.

A view of a large rocky mountain range on a nice day filled with arid plants

Source: Ian M. Jones/Unsplash

Known for being a harsh and unforgiving climate, the areas have a high level of fatalities for people brave enough to attempt to walk across the barren valleys.


Border Patrol Blames Mexican Officials for the Changes in Movement

Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott takes credit for reducing the amount of migrants coming through his state, Customs and Border Protection Officials have a different opinion.

A man with grey hair and a blue suit stands in front of a red, white, blue, and pink background

Source: @TexasTravesty/X

They say that Mexican enforcement has actually played the biggest role in the change.


Changes in International Travel Laws Partly To Blame

The border patrol agents and customs officials who have boots on the ground in these locations have noticed a strange trend. They say that it’s partly to blame by the changes that Mexico has made to their rules surrounding air travel.

An empty cement riverbed with people walking along the edges and the bed of the river

Source: Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

They say that the recent surge in smugglers in California and Arizona are caused by people from South America and Asia flying to Tijuana or Mexicali and then being smuggled across the California border. The movement is caused by people avoiding Mexican checkpoints.


The Valley of the Moon Crossing in California

The area that has seen the largest number of crossings increased is east of San Diego called the Valley of the Moon.

A large rock sits in the middle of a dry desert

Source: Wadi Rum/Unsplash

Reporters from The Washington Post landed in the area in an attempt to gain more knowledge of the story.


Border Patrol Agents Are Anticipating More Migrants

Agents along these dry and desolate areas that migrants are moving through have set up impromptu checkpoints with porta potties and water.

An expansive view of a large metal wall surrounded by dry sandy ground and arid plants

Source: Greg Bulla/Unsplash

The people moving through on foot are not running from border agents, instead, they’re actually looking for officials to turn themselves into. Being taken into custody by border agents is the first step to seek legal asylum in America. They hope to be processed by the courts and released with a date to reappear.