Oct 16, 2007
A few years back an organization was formed in Mexico to help immigrants that amass along the border, waiting entry into the United States. The group is called BETA, and is all along the U/Mexican border in any community of any size.
BETA is not a government organization, but acts in a quasi government capacity.
The group of unpaid volunteers has set-up watering and rest points all along the border, and helps injured, lost and disoriented migrants.
It sounds like a wonderful, thoughtful, humanitarian group; however, it has become a bit more than that.
In the mid 90’s when the full swing of illegal immigration into the United States started to reach capacity, hundreds of pensions, cheap hotels and house rentals –where one could cram dozens of migrants into a room, sprang up. As did cafés, stores and laundry mats catering to the influx of immigrants.
These enterprises are now everywhere on the Mexican side of the border. Everyone is trying to make a buck off of the immigrants who sometimes have to work for up to three years to pay for their trip north.
Everyone needs to be paid off: The Mexican police (local, state and federal), the soldiers, the guides and the polleros (literally chicken handlers, but also the correct term used for the smugglers who cross people. A lot of people in the US called them coyotes, though that is not the correct description. A coyote is a mythical smart animal who steels chickens from the ranchero The ranchero here is the US border and all it’s officials, and since the coyote already owns these chickens (immigrants) he or she is a chicken handler, pollero or pollera).
An anthropology student came into town recently, doing research for his PhD. He told me how wonderful he thought the organization BETA was, and all the good work that they did.
I introduced him to an acquaintance of mine who I know works sometimes as a pollero. My friend laughed at him. “The BETA is just another business expense. They’re taking mordita (the small bite or bribe), they’re trying to corral a dollar like everyone else.”
The young anthropologist was shocked.
I laughed at his naivete along with my pollero friend. I told him, “Human nature is human nature. There are people in US Customs and the Border Patrol who are on the take, and if you read US history you will realize that this was very common up until and into part of the 1940’s. It’s only since the 1950’s that we’ve developed a morality blind to the frailty of human nature.”
The young anthropologist shook his head in disbelief.
The young naive anthropologist left to study Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. If he thinks corruption is bad along the Mexican US border, he’s going to see a whole lot more of it along Mexico’s Guatemalan border.
I have seen it myself in Mexico and Guatemala, and in most ways I find it more honest and straightforward than the long protracted US legal system with lawyers, long jail sentences, and huge fines and an extremely expensive infrastructure which generates lost time, and ultimately costs the country much more and is not generally as efficient as a bribe and a wink that does not bloat the already wealthy.