The Trump tax: Human smugglers at the US-Mexico border are jacking up prices

US president Donald Trump is yet to lay the first brick of his proposed wall between the US and Mexico, but some smugglers are already pricing it in.

Last week Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly, boasted that the administration’s get-tough policies have pushed coyotes, as human smugglers are called, to jack up fees for getting immigrants through certain mountainous areas (he didn’t specify which, and officials didn’t respond to requests for clarification). They are now up to $8,000 from $3,500 in November, according to Kelly.

“The early results show that enforcement matters, deterrence matters,” Kelly said in his statement.

What’s happening on the ground is more complicated than his logic suggests.

Smuggling fees are notoriously hard to pin down. Estimates from researchers and migrant shelter officials collected by Quartz range from $4,000 to $10,000 for migrants coming from Central America. Immigrant advocates interviewed by the New York Times said prices can go up to $15,000 (paywall).

“Smugglers are not that predicable,” said Gabriella Sánchez, a University of Texas at El Paso professor who studies their practices. “There’s no smuggling business model.”

It’s true, she says, that tougher enforcement does lead to higher fees, according to research. Data from the Mexican Migration Project managed by Princeton University and the University of Guadalajara, which has been surveying Mexican immigrants for decades, show prices have generally tracked Border Patrol spending.

However, that’s not what’s pushing up prices…