Human smuggling takes place when a foreigner willfully and clandestinely enters another country illegally, with the goal of staying. This is often done by paying another person, or an organization, to help get inside the border. (Human smuggling should not be confused with human trafficking: people who are brought into a country forcefully by someone, against their will.)
Human smuggling has become a huge problem in Western nations. Endless ink has been spilled about illegal immigration. The outrage of law-abiding citizens is justified: each year hundreds of thousands of illegals enter the country; it is estimated that more than 10 million people are now living in the U.S. illegally, not to mention their children. Many of these people are smuggled across the Mexican border as part of the multi-billion dollar annual human smuggling industry; it is estimated that as many as 90% of people crossing the border have paid a smuggler to help get them enter the U.S..
Canada, for example, even though it has a generous immigration and refugee program, well-known internationally, has a particular problem with human smuggling by boat. To crack down on this illegal behaviour, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has proposed a law to create a new criminal offense for mass human smuggling. It would increase fines for boat owners to $1-million, and impose mandatory jail sentences of 10 years for smugglers who endanger the lives of passengers for profit. The law would also take a direct hit at the smuggling syndicates, who currently receive payments of up to five-digits for every person they ship into the country.
Canada has recently taken strong action against illegal immigrants. As discussed in a previous column, it has started publishing online the names of suspected war criminals living in Canada in an attempt to track them down and have them deported. The move has earned Canada the scorn of Amnesty International.
Why doesn't America follow suit?
The major concern against cracking down on smugglers, in Canada, at least, is that people who are genuine refugees, trying to escape persecution, from brutal regimes could be negatively impacted. It will not happen: Canada is extremely open to refugees seeking asylum, and no one wants to change that. This does not mean that abuse and fraud should not be curtailed.
Illegal immigration is not only a sensitive economic issue for many Americans; on top of that, human smuggling also opens the door to the Mexican and other foreign drug cartels, enabling them to expand their command and control into the U.S.. Smugglers do not simply profit from human cargo – drug deals are almost always a part of this process, thereby creating even further criminal profit.
Law enforcement agencies are still failing to deal adequately with the problem. The Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arm – the agency charged with investigating and enforcing border control – even has, as part of its official strategy, the pursuit of "legislation to increase penalties against organized smugglers."
They are right. Smuggling rings are the problem, and need to be forcefully dealt with. For a prototype for such legislation, it would help to look to Canada, which has lately become a fount of good ideas and sound public policy.
All Western countries are attractive places to foreigners: Who doesn't want to live in a country overflowing with opportunity, generous social programs, and that respects human rights and the rule of law? Foreigners, however, should be able to come in with respect for that law, to avoid rewarding those who have not been honest.
Granted, immigration and refugee policy is, further, a difficult and delicate political matter; but if the Canadian government has the wherewithal to deal with it in some serious legislation, America might benefit by taking off its kid gloves and doing something about it, too.