Trump's crackdown on the US-Mexico border has been a moneymaker for border agents working with traffickers

FILE PHOTO: A police officer gives a leaflet with information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to a person entering to Mexico from the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico March 29, 2020. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A police officer gives a leaflet with information about COVID-19 to a person entering Mexico in Ciudad Juarez, March 29, 2020. Reuters
  • President Donald Trump has cracked down on the US-Mexico border throughout his time office, increasing enforcement and putting up new barriers to entry.

  • But instead of stopping illicit traffic across the border, those tighter restrictions have likely facilitated the corruption that criminal groups rely on to move drugs and people into the US.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Ciudad Juarez, MEXICO - President Donald Trump's crackdown on the US-Mexico border hasn't stopped illicit traffic crossing it or deterred officials who secretly help it across.

Mexican drug cartels have been paying more money to more US agents than ever before in order to move drugs and people across the border, according to documents and sources who spoke to Insider.

The Trump administration has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to virtually close the border. Trump has built and often bragged about 400 miles of new border wall, installed dozens of surveillance cameras manned by the military, and boosted the number of border agents.

But none of that has had the desired effect: Traffickers have paid millions of dollars to US border agents to keep drugs and people flowing throughout Trump's time in office.

"We pay as much as $10,000 to a migra [Border Patrol officer] only to look the other way while we are using a tunnel to smuggle drugs and to tell us of new trends on surveillance," said a Mexican woman in charge of smuggling operations for a drug cartel in El Paso, Texas.

As Trump tightened surveillance on the border, their costs went up.

border wall
Contractors erect a section of 30-foot high border wall along the Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona, September 10, 2019. Matt York/AP

"We used to pay no more than $5,000 to a single agent a month or every two months, but now we are paying twice that every month for a migra to give some information," the woman told Insider.

The cartel operative, who asked not to be identified to avoid retribution, said cartels not only have ties to the Border Patrol but to CBP officers at the international bridges as well.

"Some of them provide us with the shift role so we know who is gonna be working where on that week and plan our shipment. That way we know if one of the agents working [with us] is gonna be on a shift and exactly on which lane number," she said.

In addition to bribes with money, cartels use young girls, according to a Mexican diplomatic source, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

"They are bribing CBP officers on ports of entry with girls. The girls start hanging out with them and they convince the officers to let illegal cargo through," the source said.

The cartel operative in El Paso confirmed that was a method to entice border agents.

Border agents "love alcohol and women," she said. "We started inviting some of the agents to party across the border, in a house we have in Juarez [in Mexico], and we set him up. At the beginning the officer working for us started because we were threatening him with showing his pictures with an underage girl to his wife, but later he learned to love money."

FILE PHOTO: A woman touches a family member through the border fence between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, United States, after a bi-national Mass in support of migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A woman in Mexico touches a family member through the border fence between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, after a bi-national Mass in support of migrants, February 15, 2016. Thomson Reuters

Stricter controls at the border are directly responsible for an uptick in corruption cases, most of them related to organized crime, according to David Jancsics, a professor at San Diego State University and author of the 2020 report "Corruption on the US-Mexico border."

"Tighter border security may further increase the level of this type of bribery. A trust-based strategic conspiracy between the corrupt partners is already the dominant form of border corruption in the United States," Jancsics said.

Jancsics' report estimates that workers with the Department of Homeland Security accepted $15 million of bribes over a 10-year period.

"By the logic I would say with Trump the corruption must be worse than before, but it's very difficult to say. We only know of people arrested, which are small numbers - the tip of the iceberg," said Jancsics.

During the Obama administration, cases of misconduct among border officers dropped steadily. But since 2017, when Trump took office, cases have reached a five-year high, according to a recent internal Customs and Border Patrol report.

There were 286 total arrests during fiscal year 2018 - 268 CBP employees arrested twice, one employee arrested four times, and one employee arrested five times.

The charges include drug smuggling, bribery, theft, and sharing classified government data, records show.

"As an Agency charged with law enforcement activities, CBP regards any violation of law by its employees as being inconsistent with and contrary to its law enforcement mission," the CBP report states.

During 2020, at least a dozen CBP employees were arrested on suspicion of working directly with criminal organizations at the border, according to media releases.

Trump and border patrol
President Donald Trump with US Customs and Border Protection officers at McAllen International Airport in McAllen, Texas, January 10, 2019. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In August, a Border Patrol agent in Arizona was arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs for a Mexican criminal organization. The same month, a US border agent was arrested in Juarez and accused of smuggling 30 rounds of ammunition, a loaded firearm magazine, and a bulletproof vest.

In September, six border agents were arrested on suspicion of stealing cocaine and marijuana from dealers to sell in the US. That month, a CBP officer in Laredo was arrested in connection with four murders and one kidnapping.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent in San Diego, said corruption is part of Border Patrol culture.

"To my knowledge, no other agency is as bad as the Border Patrol in terms of corruption. Since Trump took office he has empowered corrupt agents. They feel Trump is one of them and they can do whatever they want," Budd said.

Budd worked with former border agent Raul Villarreal, who was arrested in Tijuana in October 2008 and convicted four years later of running a human-smuggling ring that brought hundreds of immigrants across the US-Mexico border illegally.

"It still is very common for Border Patrol supervisors to smuggle drugs or people using their own official vehicles. There are agents that have cartel connections before even entering BP," Budd said.

Budd, now a whistleblower about Border Patrol corruption, thinks management is responsible for corruption and abuse inside the agencies.

"I've been advocating in Washington for the Border Patrol and CBP [to] be managed by an external agency. That would be the only way out," Budd told Insider.

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