Smuggling and Stopping The Buck

I write this just after reading a recent Rolling Stones’ article on human smuggling in the US, more specifically the activities of a few young men—and some young women— attending Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since Corpus as the locals call it is a city I know fairly well, and the people involved could have been people I knew, or like some of the people I know there, the story rang an even louder bell. These young people were party animals, into drugs and were brought into a smuggling operation through a friend they met a one such party. Corpus, is not far from the border, and residents are used to people they know or even taxi drivers being “coyotes”. I thought their reaction telling, they disapproved but closed their eyes to a reality they felt beyond them. In the case of the college students—non-Mexicans it is useful to point out—if I read the article correctly, they saw their actions as benevolent, in one case, justifying the activity on humanitarian grounds, in another having a young man bragging, “ I sell the American dream.” The young people would pick up the migrants at some point along the border on the US side, deliver them to a safe house while they were waiting for money to arrive to pay the smugglers. If payment did not come, they were driven back to where they had been picked up, the drivers not knowing, or caring whether the desert would swallow them, or whether they would be beaten or harmed in some way. In the cases cited in the article the motive was clearly financial, and the link to trafficking in human beings totally absent from the consciousness of these young drivers. To them they were providing a service, a needed service. The whole idea that each migrant was being charged $500 to $3000 to cross the border was not on their radar screen. True they were providing a service, and engaging in a business, but even leaving out the human trafficking aspect, when a business charges way beyond what the service ought to be worth it is called, usury, gauging, extortion and it is illegal. I have often pondered what makes a smuggler a smuggler, what makes him or her close their eyes to the moral, ethical, human values behind their action. This article offers no clue, for the financial incentive is a given. Still having these smugglers be US college students compels us to ask, at least a few questions. Are we as a society placing material values above any notions of right and wrong? What is it in our society that enabled these young people to be oblivious? Would the buck stop with us were we in a similar situation?