What It Costs to Be Smuggled Across the U.S. Border (NY TIMES)

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Shortly before dawn one Sunday last August, a driver in an S.U.V. picked up Christopher Cruz at a stash house in this border city near the Gulf of Mexico. The 22-year-old from El Salvador was glad to leave the one-story building, where smugglers kept bundles of cocaine and marijuana alongside their human cargo, but he was anxious about what lay ahead.

The driver deposited Mr. Cruz at an illegal crossing point on the edge of the Rio Grande. A smuggler took a smartphone photograph to confirm his identity and sent it using WhatsApp to a driver waiting to pick him up on the other side of the frontier when — if — he made it across.

The nearly 2,000-mile trip had already cost Mr. Cruz’s family more than $6,000 and brought him within sight of Brownsville, Tex. The remaining 500 miles to Houston — terrain prowled by the United States Border Patrol as well as the state and local police — would set them back another $6,500.

It was an almost inconceivable amount of money for someone who earned just a few dollars a day picking coffee beans back home. But he wasn’t weighing the benefits of a higher-paying job. He was fleeing violence and what he said was near-certain death at the hands of local gangs.

“There’s no other option,” Mr. Cruz said. “The first thought I had was, ‘I just need to get out of here at whatever cost.’”

As Christopher Cruz made his way to the American border, his smugglers sometimes identified him by a numeric code or an assumed name, or simply called him “the package.” Christopher Lee for The New York Times

The stretch of southwest border where he intended to cross has become the epicenter of the raging battle over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. One clear consequence of the tightening American border and the growing perils getting there is that more and more desperate families are turning to increasingly sophisticated smuggling operations to get relatives into the United States.

Mr. Cruz’s story provides an unusually detailed anatomy of the price of the journey. The money paid for a network of drivers who concealed him in tractor-trailers and minibuses, a series of houses where he hid out, handlers tied to criminal organizations who arranged his passage, and bribes for Mexican police officers to look the other way as he passed.

Even with his family’s payment, he slept amid filth and vermin. He watched guides abandon some migrants who could not keep up, and guards prod others to become drug mules. Sometimes the smugglers identified him by a numeric code, other times by an assumed name. But as often as not, they simply called him “the package,” to be moved for profit like an illicit good.

For Mr. Cruz, it was worth it. “They can build as many walls as they want,” he said, referring to American officials. “They can send as many soldiers to the border as they want, but a people’s need and desire for a better life is stronger.”

President Trump and his supporters have called for greater vigilance along the border to keep out people like Mr. Cruz, a low-skilled worker who followed in the path of other family members who also arrived illegally, and who hopes those left behind will join him.

Pledging to halt illegal immigration, Mr. Trump has pushed for a 1,000-mile wall, ordered National Guard units to the border and encouraged workplace roundups of undocumented immigrants, which had largely been curtailed during the Obama years.

The number of illegal crossings has dropped significantly in the last decade, but responding to a surge in recent months of Central Americans arriving at the southern border or sneaking across it, the administration has embraced even tougher measures: “zero tolerance”for those arriving illegally, by requiring criminal prosecutions; family separation, a policy from which Mr. Trump was forced to retreat after images of children wailing for their parents provoked a public outcry; and eliminating domestic violence and gang violence as grounds for granting asylum to migrants who arrived at legal crossing points.

“The zero-tolerance policy and the publicity surrounding the child separations will further strengthen the smuggling networks and reinforce the patterns we have observed, as the risks, costs and fees are significantly growing,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason University and an expert on organized crime. “This will certainly increase the demand for smugglers and will further strengthen the connection between human smugglers and other criminal actors, such as drug cartels and corrupt local law enforcement.”

The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told lawmakers in May that migrants paid $500 million a year to groups fueling violence and instability in the region. A decade ago, Mexicans and Central Americans paid between $1,000 and $3,000 for clandestine passage into the United States. Now they hand over up to $9,200 for the same journey, the Department of Homeland Security reported last year. Those figures have continued to rise, according to interviews at migrant shelters in Mexico.

To trace Mr. Cruz’s journey from El Salvador, The New York Times relied on extensive interviews with him and his family, and reviewed contemporaneous photographs, text messages, receipts and GPS positions.

Amounts show the payments that Mr. Cruz’s family made at each stage of his trip.

San Diego


El Paso



San Antonio






Monterrey                                                                                                                                  Matamoros






Gulf of Mexico





Mexico City






Pacific Ocean

Guatemala City




San Salvador

His uncle in the United States checked in constantly by Facebook Messenger during his weeks on the road. He asked for proof-of-life selfies and confirmed his locations along the route using the Find My iPhone app before wiring money for each leg of the journey.

The Times also interviewed dozens of experts, academics, and current and former law enforcement officials about the underground economy of human smuggling. Reporters reviewed more than 200 recent criminal complaints in smuggling cases along the southwest border, including those brought against drivers, stash-house operators, foot guides and migrants.

That day at the Rio Grande last summer, a guide prepared to lead Mr. Cruz and some two dozen other migrants to the far side of the river while three lookouts perched in trees, scanning the horizon for any hint of the Border Patrol.

When he arrived at the crossing, Mr. Cruz found that the river wasn’t wide, at most a few hundred feet, but the water was murky and full of debris. The smugglers had gathered the migrants at the water’s edge, with giant inflated inner tubes for those who couldn’t swim. They said the makeshift rafts were slower than swimming, so Mr. Cruz pulled off his skinny-leg khakis and T-shirt and paddled to the other side in his boxer shorts.

After climbing up the bank, his first tenuous toehold in the United States, he crouched, wet and shivering, in the brush and got dressed. Mr. Cruz’s face had lost much of its roundness as he had shed 30 pounds over a month of hard travel. A life of skateboarding, tinkering with computers and eating his grandmother’s cooking had not prepared him for the demands of the road.

The smugglers almost hadn’t let him cross, because they worried that his coughing fits from a respiratory infection might give the group away. But he had made it. The foot guide passed along the all-clear signal from the sentries in the trees, and the small crowd of migrants began to sprint toward the 18-foot steel security fence blocking their passage into the United States. That area of the border, which Mr. Trump wants to fortify with a new wall, was already among the stretches best defended by the Americans.

Mr. Cruz had climbed halfway up the fence when he heard a helicopter overhead and saw patrol cars converging. Agents grabbed those already over the fence and began to arrest them.

“When I saw that, I slid down and I ran back,” Mr. Cruz recalled. He dived again into the Rio Grande, his only hope to escape back to Mexico.

Under Fear of Death

Mr. Cruz grew up in San Miguel, the fourth-largest city in El Salvador. Gang violence is virtually endemic in the country, and Mr. Cruz dropped out of high school when the infamous MS-13 became too dangerous there. His family relocated to Berlín, about an hour’s drive away, which had less of a gang problem than the big cities.

Mr. Cruz’s mother lived in the United States, but he was much closer to her brother there, an uncle he considered a father figure and called “Papi.” Mr. Cruz lived with his grandmother and younger sister. He also had a 2-year-old son to provide for, though he and the boy’s mother had broken up.

In El Salvador, Mr. Cruz earned a few dollars a day picking coffee during harvest season. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

During coffee-picking season he rose at 4 in the morning, walked an hour to the farm where he worked, then plucked ripe red coffee cherries until dark. He usually earned $15 to $20 a week. Outside harvest season, Mr. Cruz painted murals and cleaned streets for the local government. He briefly worked as a bartender at a restaurant an hour’s bus ride away.

The police had all but declared open season on gang-age men, Mr. Cruz said, and he and his friends were harassed and beaten by the security forces. Meanwhile, gang members regularly threatened him and shook him down for money because they realized he received support from his uncle in the United States.

One night, Mr. Cruz and his friends were walking home when they noticed a blue Honda creeping behind them. When the young men started to run, the car accelerated, then followed Mr. Cruz as the group split up.

“I got to my house and it was locked,” he recalled. He considered climbing over the front gate but worried the men who were following him might kill his grandmother and sister too. Over his shoulder he saw the gang members draw guns as he fled across a soccer field before taking refuge in a nearby health clinic.

After that night, he resolved to leave. “That is the reality of El Salvador,” he said. “You are scared of both, the gangs and the police.” He did not consider trying to enter United States legally to seek asylum; even under the more lenient asylum policies a year ago only a fraction of gang-violence victims won that status.

Mr. Cruz had never gone farther than neighboring Honduras. But in some Central American cities, smuggling services to the United States are openly promoted on the streets, with hawkers luring customers the way agents at tourist destinations advertise sailing or snorkeling excursions. They take potential customers to a back room of a nearby store, where salesmen pitch them on a smuggling route. Some would-be migrants give up homes, cars, livestock and even farmland tilled by their families for generations and take on debt to pay the fees.

Mr. Cruz’s uncle, who now has legal status in the United States after arriving illegally years ago, spoke to a woman in his local Salvadoran community. She told him of smugglers who brought her three children over for a flat $20,000 fee after gang members back home killed her husband. The uncle used WhatsApp to contact a woman in Mexico representing the smuggling network, who became the point of contact throughout Mr. Cruz’s journey.

“Would it be possible to pick up my nephew as close as possible to the edge of San Salvador?” the uncle asked her in one message. “The boy is 22 years old but acts more like 12.” The uncle spoke on the condition of anonymity because he, like other relatives of unauthorized immigrants, feared he could be prosecuted for trafficking a family member.

Mr. Cruz worried about the trip. His best friend had made the same journey the year before only to be kidnapped near the American border and held for two months. His family paid $20,000 to free him, and he ended up back in El Salvador. And a female friend of Mr. Cruz had been raped by smugglers on the American side of the border, caught by the authorities and then deported.

His uncle assured him over Facebook Messenger that everything would be fine. “Don’t worry too much, the trip will be peaceful. That’s why I paid so much. These people have good contacts. Ok, but one always feels nervous and fearful. In a short time you’ll be here and things will be different.”

Mr. Cruz’s aunt and uncle earned enough to advance him the money for the journey, but Mr. Cruz would have to pay them back. They wired $800 to El Salvador the day he set out on the initial leg of the trip. “Any opportunity you have to connect, send me a message with your location,” the uncle wrote.

“Activate Find My iPhone so you can find out my location from the iCloud,” Mr. Cruz answered. “That way you’ll know the route I’m taking.” Mr. Cruz set off for the United States with a backpack carrying three changes of clothes, deodorant, cookies and a charger for the iPhone 5 that would be his connection and lifeline.

‘You Already Know How Much This Is’

His trip began with an idling pickup truck outside a mall in Soyapango, on the edge of San Salvador. The smuggler who would accompany him through El Salvador and Guatemala sat behind the wheel.

Mr. Cruz crossed into Guatemala legally with his national identity card. Fred Ramos for The New York Times





La Hachadura





Pacific Ocean


In the beginning, it was almost like being a tourist. Mr. Cruz crossed into Guatemala legally at La Hachadura, close to El Salvador’s Pacific coast, with his national identity card. He even received a printed receipt.

The driver left the pickup truck behind in El Salvador and chaperoned him by bus to the capital, Guatemala City. The two of them transferred buses and traveled a few hours further to Huehuetenango, in the western highlands, which serves as a jumping-off point for the Mexican border.

The bus terminal in Huehuetenango, a Guatemalan city that is often the last stop for migrants heading into Mexico. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

They spent a night in a cheap hotel and traveled the next day to La Mesilla along the Mexican frontier. Vendors under colorful umbrellas sold drinks and snacks at the crossing. A blue sign wished travelers a “feliz viaje,” or nice trip, above the gate separating the two countries.

To skirt the border police outpost, the smuggler directed Mr. Cruz to a nearby industrial area where he walked alone up a gravel path and into Mexico. For the first time, he became an illegal immigrant.

Mr. Cruz boarded a minibus, filled with local passengers, to begin his trip through the southern state of Chiapas. As instructed by the driver, at toll plazas he hunched down between the seats and covered himself with the passengers’ backpacks, suitcases and packages. The driver whistled when it was safe to come out.

He was vulnerable to criminals who might try to kidnap him, police officers seeking bribes and the more robust immigration enforcement that has taken root in recent years in southern Mexico. Under pressure from Washington, the Mexican government has cracked down on migrants passing through its territory. Because of the greater vigilance along the smuggling routes, between 80 and 95 percent of migrants bound for the United States used so-called coyotes in recent years, compared with fewer than half in the early 1970s, Border Patrol surveys of captured migrants found.

Just two days into Mr. Cruz’s journey, his family had to wire the smuggling network $1,900 to get him through southern Mexico.

Mr. Cruz spent several days in a small house near Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, sleeping on a sofa. It was comfortable enough, but he wondered what the holdup was. “They want to move you even more than you do,” his uncle assured him, “because they have to pay for every day that you’re there but I don’t pay extra.”

When the smugglers finally continued the trip, Mr. Cruz spent a night on a hammock at an isolated spot near the Malpaso Dam, surrounded by trees. “I was headed for Puebla yesterday, but immigration stopped two people who had gone ahead,” he texted his uncle. “So they moved me here instead.”

The next morning, Mr. Cruz climbed into the cab of a tractor-trailer and rode alongside the driver. At a toll area, he had his first run-in with the police. Officers stopped the truck for a routine check, and after seeing Mr. Cruz’s Salvadoran ID, realized that he was in Mexico illegally. They demanded money or else they would deport him, Mr. Cruz said.

Mr. Cruz spent a night near one of the Grijalva River’s dams, delayed on his way to Puebla, in Mexico.Fred Ramos for The New York Times

Gulf of Mexico




Malpaso Dam


Tuxtla Gutiérrez

He fished out $170 he had hidden in his shoes. Mr. Cruz remembered one of the police officers telling him it was his lucky day. “I was getting out of trouble. I was able to get away because I had this money on me,” he said.

The officers stole the truck driver’s cash as well. Once they left, the driver threatened to hand the migrant over to violent drug traffickers unless Mr. Cruz got him $600. Panicked, Mr. Cruz called his aunt and uncle in the United States for help, but they didn’t answer.

Thousands of miles away, the couple emerged from a water park — a rare day off with their young daughter — to find the missed calls. They had been observing Mr. Cruz’s progress on their smartphones and computers, watching him move northward through small towns, streets full of pastel houses and parking lots for Walmarts and Pemex gas stations.

On the phone with his relatives, he described the police theft and the driver’s threat. His uncle quickly turned to the Mexican woman at the smuggling network, who found another driver to carry Mr. Cruz to Puebla. The uncle asked Mr. Cruz to remain calm.

“Stay calm, stay calm, everyone keeps saying that,” Mr. Cruz responded in a Facebook message. “Knowing I’ve never been away from home. That I’m easily frightened in a situation like this. And you want me to keep calm and keep calm. I can’t.”

On subsequent traffic stops, the bribe for the police was always the same: 1,500 Mexican pesos, or about $84. At first Mr. Cruz tried to lie, saying he wasn’t a migrant but was on his way to Monterrey to make a delivery. Eventually he dropped any pretense. The fourth time he was stopped for a payoff, the cop simply said, “You already know how much this is.”

Doors Locked, Windows Barred

Mr. Cruz made it as far as Puebla, southeast of Mexico City and a pivot point on the journey. His family wired $450 to the smugglers, including pocket money for Mr. Cruz for food and bribes.

Mr. Cruz made it to Puebla, paying hundreds of dollars in bribes to police officers along the way. Fred Ramos for The New York Times

The woman he stayed with in Puebla treated him well, feeding him the local delicacy “chiles en nogada,” chiles in cream sauce with pomegranate seeds: green, white and red like the Mexican flag. She took him to buy soap, shampoo and toothpaste, but also got rid of his shoes — Bracos, a brand that the Mexican authorities would recognize as Salvadoran — and gave him another pair.

After four days there the smugglers tried to move him north, but word came that some migrants had been killed near Monterrey, his next stop, so they brought him back to Puebla. After waiting three more days, Mr. Cruz hid with a young woman and her infant son in the sleeping compartment of a tractor-trailer for the overnight drive to Monterrey.

On my way back to Puebla
People are being killed there, so I was turned back
Ok. Better to be safe

The driver insisted they each take a pill, saying it was to keep them alert in case they were stopped. He then ground another pill into powder and mixed part of it in the baby’s bottle before snorting the rest himself. Mr. Cruz said that he did not know what was in the pill but that after taking it he couldn’t have slept even if he had tried.

He arrived in Monterrey, the third-largest metropolitan area in Mexico and an industrial and commercial hub. Far from the booming downtown, behind a metal front gate, the windows and doors were shut and barred on the cinder-block house where Mr. Cruz was kept. Trash was everywhere. The small courtyard was filled with mud and debris. Ants and cockroaches crawled indoors. The only water ran brown and unfiltered from the faucet. A terrible smell wafted from the bathroom.

Mr. Cruz spent four days in Monterrey, locked in a dingy stash house far from the bustling downtown. Fred Ramos for The New York Times







“It was like a prison,” Mr. Cruz said.

Migrants like Mr. Cruz had to pay their captors to bring them bottled water or snacks, if they even had the cash to pay prices that were triple those at the local convenience store. Otherwise food arrived only every other day, in the form of a carton of 30 eggs to feed the dozen or so people typically there. At night, Mr. Cruz said, he lay on a thin mat on the floor but couldn’t sleep with mice and insects running over him.

Every day smugglers dropped off and picked up migrants, who were kept locked inside. A Guatemalan man everyone called “el dueño,” “the owner,” was in charge because he had been there the longest. He had run out of money to continue his journey a month and a half earlier.

Mr. Cruz was stuck there for four days. His uncle sent $2,800, and they carried him onward to the eastern Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, just below southern Texas. His journey took him first to Ciudad Miguel Alemán, across from Roma, Tex., before he boarded a bus for Matamoros, two and a half hours away, with the assumed name Carlos Hernandez on his ticket.

And you weren’t stopped at all?
No papi, there wasn’t a single checkpoint
Just an army one but they said nothing, didn’t check anything
Ok. And you crossed all the way next to the river after Miguel Alemán?
We got to Reynosa and at one turn you could see a big river
That’s the one you’ll cross. The other side is the USA

Tamaulipas has become known for violent confrontations between organized crime groups, and migrants caught in the middle have been massacred. In the summer of 2010, the corpses of 72 migrants killed by cartel members were discovered there in San Fernando. The message was clear: Crossing into the United States without permission from the drug traffickers, or narcos, who controlled the border territory could be lethal.

Rodolfo Casillas, an expert on illegal migration at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Mexico, estimated that up to $1,000 of the total smuggling price went to pay off the narcos for the “derecho de paso,” or right to pass. One migrant testifying in a human-smuggling case in Texas last year told the authorities that he had paid 11,000 pesos, or about $630, for protection from the Zetas criminal organization, and just 1,500 pesos for assistance with the river crossing.

A patrol near the border in Matamoros. Under pressure from Washington, the Mexican government has cracked down on migrants passing through its territory. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The house where Mr. Cruz was kept in Matamoros was better maintained than the hovel in Monterrey. He and the 30 other migrants could bathe with buckets of water from a pair of concrete basins with spigots outside. The men watching the house, tied to the narcos, brought them beers and even offered them drugs from bundles of cocaine and marijuana.

“If you ran out of money, that’s when they would offer to cross you as a mule,” Mr. Cruz said.

Some migrants at the house agreed to ferry drugs.

After sending off the migrants with drugs one day, the traffickers returned to the stash house seething. “They were extremely angry,” Mr. Cruz recalled, not because the migrants had been arrested but because they had lost their shipment of drugs.

Back and Forth Across the Rio Grande

Mr. Cruz was sick. The temperature along his journey had yo-yoed 40 degrees as the altitude climbed to 7,000 feet in Puebla before dropping to sea level in Matamoros. The unsanitary conditions in Monterrey probably hadn’t helped.

Mr. Cruz was eager to leave the house in Matamoros, but his coughing spasms gave the smugglers pause. They didn’t want him giving their position away as a group tried to slip past Border Patrol agents.

His uncle asked Mr. Cruz if the Mexican woman from the smuggling network could insist that they move him anyway. But Mr. Cruz realized she had little sway at the border. “Someone else decides who leaves,” he told his uncle, “and she pays them.”

His family sent $180 to the smugglers, who said half would go toward medicine and half for a backup phone. Doses of cough syrup, along with several days of rest, seemed to help. That Saturday night Mr. Cruz wrote to his uncle, “They’re going to say if I leave in the morning.” Shortly after midnight he wrote again, saying, “At 4 o’clock in the morning I go.”

We have to pass the river and the wall and then be picked up.
If all goes well we will be in McAllen in 3 hours
Ok, I hope so!
Ok. I hope it’s clear and there’s no Border Patrol so we cross quickly

The region, where the Rio Grande coils and bends in switchbacks, has become the central battleground of the southwest frontier for illegal entries. Some 138,000 people were caught trying to cross here in 2017, close to half of all those apprehended from the California coast all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Illegal crossings fell significantly in the initial months of the Trump administration but shot up this year: From March to May, the number of migrants apprehended along the southwest border was triple the total for the same period in 2017, though far below the levels of a decade or two ago. Last year Customs and Border Protection intercepted 303,916 people there — compared with more than 1.6 million in 2000.

As part of the $1.3 trillion spending bill that Congress passed in March, $1.375 billion in funding went for more than 90 miles of physical barriers along the border with Mexico. Of that, 33 miles will be built in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, where Mr. Cruz was trying to cross.

For all the debate about Mr. Trump’s proposed wall, a virtual barrier was steadily strengthened under previous administrations. Doughy blimps equipped with cameras provide video surveillance, with thermal imaging for nighttime. Migrants unknowingly trip advanced seismic sensors with their first steps on American soil. The number of Border Patrol agents has grown to about 20,000 from roughly 9,000 in 2001, while budgets have quadrupled, spent on everything from all-terrain vehicles and horse patrols to helicopters and advanced reconnaissance drones.

That gives the Border Patrol a much better chance of combating criminal smuggling networks, which use Facebook and Craigslist to recruit drivers, satellite phones and encrypted communication applications to direct them, night-vision technology to scan for patrols, and off-the shelf tracking devices to monitor moving vehicles.

“They have evolved as the technology has evolved, and we have as well,” said Benjamine Huffman, chief of strategic planning and analysis for the Border Patrol.

Early that morning, the smugglers gathered Mr. Cruz, one of two dozen migrants from two stash houses in town, and crammed them into the back of an S.U.V., stacking them like cordwood. Wedged into a corner of the trunk with the weight of his fellow migrants crushing down on him, Mr. Cruz struggled to catch his breath.

Once at the Rio Grande, he swam to the other side, while those who couldn’t swim were pulled on the inner tubes. The migrants in his group began to mount the border fence. But the Border Patrol descended, grabbing some of the first arrivals. He realized he had to turn back.

The Rio Grande, which Mr. Cruz and other migrants swam to enter the United States. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

“There was no other alternative but to cross the river,” Mr. Cruz said.

As was customary, the smugglers would give him three tries to make it across safely. One chance was gone. Mr. Cruz steeled himself to try again at a different bend along the river.

The temperature had climbed to 93 degrees by midday Sunday when Mr. Cruz made his second illegal visit to the United States, at another crossing nearby. It was even shorter than his first.

Border Patrol agents swarmed the group as they made landfall on the north bank again. One agent got a hand on Mr. Cruz’s back but, instead of arresting him, sent him sprawling into the river. Swallowing water and struggling to stay afloat, Mr. Cruz said, he barely managed to swim back to Mexico.

Patrolling the border in Brownsville, Tex. Mexico is to the right of the Rio Grande. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The sun was low and dusk approaching by the time the coyotes brought the migrants to their third crossing point. The smugglers said the spot, more isolated, was usually reserved for moving drug shipments, more valuable than migrants. Mr. Cruz would have to swim across the Rio Grande for the fifth time that day.

Of the 17 people left from the two dozen in the morning, Mr. Cruz recalled, five were women, including one who appeared about eight months pregnant and another in her 50s, he guessed. He wondered how they would make it, but his family had warned him: Worry about yourself. Do not stop for anyone.

Mr. Cruz could hardly believe the determination of the pregnant woman as they emerged from the river again and started to run. But the older woman slipped behind and fell to the ground. The guide did nothing. “He just left her there,” Mr. Cruz said.

Checkpoints and Hidden Compartments

The driver of the waiting S.U.V. honked his horn to get their attention. He was angry, expecting just a few migrants to crawl out of the South Texas field and instead finding 16 people. In a region full of Border Patrol agents, it was a risky load to carry.

The driver told Mr. Cruz to ride shotgun, and he saw bundles of cocaine on the passenger seat. But it was only a short drive to a parking lot where the smugglers separated the group into different cars, depending on their destinations. Mr. Cruz and five others got into a Cadillac headed an hour northwest to a stash house in McAllen, Tex.

A recently busted stash house in McAllen, Tex. State authorities offer rewards for tips about such hide-outs. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Drop-offs and pickups are often meticulously planned so that migrants are ready to jump in as soon as the car pulls up. Smugglers sometimes mark migrants with colored tape to quickly sort who is going where. Smugglers often drive two cars, using one to draw the attention of law enforcement and another to carry the migrants.

Border Patrol officers have grown more aggressive in their search for unauthorized immigrants throughout the 100-mile band of territory inside the United States border, where they have authority to establish checkpoints and perform searches.

At the stash house in McAllen, the caretakers took away phones and even migrants’ shoes so they wouldn’t run away. “One particular person, they beat him up and kicked him because he wasn’t paying attention,” Mr. Cruz said.

He estimated there were 70 people inside. They were given no food and were not allowed to speak to one another or even move without permission. Neighbors in border regions can be quick to report suspected stash houses. More than a third of all those busted by Customs and Border Protection last year — 140 out of 407 in the Southwest — were in the Rio Grande Valley, where Mr. Cruz was.

After just a day and a half in McAllen, Mr. Cruz huddled with four other migrants in the sleeping compartment of a tractor-trailer headed to San Antonio. They were nearly discovered by agents during a routine search at a highway checkpoint, cowering under blankets as they felt someone check the bedding they were hiding under. Mr. Cruz was transferred to a minivan with a concealed compartment built under the back seat, where he hid for part of the ride.

A Border Patrol checkpoint north of McAllen, in a band of territory where officers have grown more aggressive in their search for unauthorized immigrants. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Mr. Cruz was brought to one last stash house, stripped to just his boxer shorts in a room “with no electricity, no light coming through, no windows and one big bed with four men,” as he described it, essentially a hostage until the final payments were made. Two days passed.

His family had to transfer the remaining $6,500 to the smuggling network. Although a record $28.8 billion in remittances was sent to Mexico last year, the authorities regularly flag suspicious transactions. Mr. Cruz’s uncle had to break up the sum into smaller, less conspicuous transfers.

Even with the precautions, one of the payments was flagged, canceled and had to be re-sent to a different recipient. Only when the final installment arrived in Mexico could Mr. Cruz go. “They gave me my clothes to put back on, and they blindfolded me again,” he said.

The smugglers drove him to a gas station. There he saw the familiar face of his uncle. Mr. Cruz began to cry.

Relief at finishing his journey did not last long. Mr. Cruz was now in an unfamiliar country, where he did not speak the language and could not legally hold a job. He would have to hide in plain sight. He was $12,630 in debt. But, he said, at least he didn’t fear for his life. “Here I know I’m safe,” he said.

His uncle found him tougher and more mature after the journey’s hardships. Mr. Cruz looked ahead to earning enough money to begin the cycle again, paying for his son, his sister and his grandmother to join him in the United States. “I dream of bringing them over here,” he said.


Reporting was contributed by Ron Nixon in San Antonio, Nadia T. Rodriguez in New York and Cecilia Ballí in Matamoros. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Idiotproof ways to avoid losing in the 2019 Elections

If it looks like you don’t have a chance to win, don’t run. Don’t believe the myth that if your face is always on some tabloid or tarp… or, if you’re a candidate in just about every election, you’ll build name recognition and get elected. The reverse is true: being “visible” all the time may heighten the voters’ highly-developed “epal” detector… and the more times you run, the less likely you are to win. Most folks who run the second or third time do not win. Also important, if every survey finds you in the tailend of perceived winnable candidates, take it as a sign. To abort.


Basic basic – find out how many votes you need to win.  Moderate your ambition. If you want to become a senator, realize that you have a lot of ground to cover to garner the required millions of votes to win. (If you can’t get even 200 people to like your Facebook page, you need very serious thinking time. Badly. Urgently.) A lot of ground means a lot of expenses. One running for representative or local office requires much, much less funding. Be realistic: create a vote goal – an estimate of the number of people that you need to like you enough to vote for you. The simple act of creating a vote goal can save you a lot of time campaigning for a race you might not have had a shot at.


Have a differentiator. Politics is a comparative game. Especially in political campaigns where you are running against multiple candidates, you need to create a contrast. You need to create a reason for voters to choose you. Avoid the perennial cliches, i.e. “Serbisyong Totoo”, “Atin Ito”, “Para sa Mahirap”, “Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao”, etc. They may have been big ideas in the past — but big ideas are only big ONCE.


Run for the right reasons. Don’t run to be able to afford upgrading your audiophile sound system.  Don’t run because your car needs a license plate that’s not subject to coding. Don’t run because you hate the good looks of your opponent. Run because you have the intelligence and talent to do the most good for your town or community.  


It’s about the voter. Your campaign should center around the question “What’s in it for the voter?”. Imee Marcos instinctively knew the primal desire of most of her provincemates when she run for governor and stuck ruthlessly to the promise “Manang Imee = Trabaho”. Political campaigns should be about delivering results for the greatest number of people. The candidate is a vehicle for that, but a lot of times campaigns can get lost in the weeds and focus on personal details about a candidate that are not relevant. Example: Koko Pimental for Senator – Bar Topnotcher.


Budget for a winning political campaign. The “goodness of your heart” won’t singlehandedly win you an electionYou must budget for any campaign; make sure you plan to have the money you need to win your campaign. Check out the costs of similar campaigns and candidates, while also assessing potential competition and the cost of a winning strategy. Live with the fact that, as a candidate, you will spend a great deal of your time asking (even begging) for financial help – mostly, from moneyed total strangers.


Listen more than you talk. It is not about the candidate; it is about the voter. Majority of candidates get so focused on the political campaign that they start to believe that the election is about the campaign itself. But that is not the case. Political campaigns are a means to get our message out, they are not the message itself.


Tell a great story.  Good campaign planning requires good storytelling. Always remind yourself that voters are hopelessly riveted to movies and teleseryes that spin tales of struggles, setbacks and happy endings. Use this insight to drive home your compelling message. President Duterte didn’t need to have a catchy jingle or the endorsement of movie stars; he won by singlemindedly enthralling us with his personal experiences of fighting criminals, corrupt officials and druglords.

The stories got us craving for more.


Exercise won’t make you lose weight – you gotta lose the sugar

Our Sugar Intake Is The Real Culprit, Say Experts

I Forbes Magazine

In a fascinating and scorching editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, three authors argue that the myth that exercise is the key to weight loss – and to health – is erroneous and pervasive, and that it must end. The evidence that diet matters more than exercise is now overwhelming, they write, and has got to be heeded: We can exercise to the moon and back but still be fat for all the sugar and carbs we consume. And perhaps even more jarring is that we can be a normal weight and exercise, and still be unhealthy if we’re eating poorly. So, they say, we need a basic reboot of our understanding of health, which has to involve the food industry’s powerful PR “machinery,” since that was part of the problem to begin with.

The major point the team makes – which they say the public doesn’t really understand – is that exercise in and of itself doesn’t really lead to weight loss. It may lead to a number of excellent health effects, but weight loss – if you’re not also restricting calories – isn’t one of them. “Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and some cancers by at least 30%,” they write. “However, physical activity does not promote weight loss.”

Plus, in the last 30 years, exercise has stayed about the same, while overweight and obesity have skyrocketed. So something else must be at play – like the type of food we’re eating. That part has gotten steadily worse over the years, as highly-processed sugary foods and sodas have taken over as our go-to choices. “According to the Lancet global burden of disease reports,” they write, “poor diet now generates more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and smoking combined.” This is a disturbing statistic. But it gets worse.

The related and larger issue is that even normal weight people who exercise will, if they eat poorly, have metabolic markers that put them at very high risk of chronic illness and early mortality. “Up to 40% of those with a normal body mass index will harbour metabolic abnormalities typically associated with obesity, which include hypertension, dyslipidaemia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.”

And the crux of the issue is this: We’re continually “fed” the idea that all that’s behind the rise in obesity is lack of exercise, or sedentariness. There have certainly been a lot of studies and popular articles suggesting that sitting is our downfall. Instead of effective messages about diet and health that science actually knows to be true, “members of the public are drowned by an unhelpful message about maintaining a ‘healthy weight’ through calorie counting,” the team writes, “and many still wrongly believe that obesity is entirely due to lack of exercise. This false perception is rooted in the Food Industry’s Public Relations machinery, which uses tactics chillingly similar to those of big tobacco.”

What we know to be true is much simpler: “Sugar calories promote fat storage and hunger,” the write. “Fat calories induce fullness or satiation.” For every additional 150 calories in sugar (i.e., a can of soda) a person consumes per day, the risk for diabetes rises 11-fold, regardless of how much or little we exercise. The single most effective thing people can do for their weight, they write, is to restrict calories – and even more, restrict carbohydrates.

So if this is all true, and research seems to suggest it is, how will it change? It might take quite a lot of work to shift our psychology around food, especially since advertising is so saturated with the message that carbohydrates are good for us. The celebrity endorsements might need to be tweaked, the authors say, and certainly the way foods are advertised and, perhaps, created, need to be shifted. The public should be repeatedly hit with the message that whole, natural foods, where possible and affordable is the best way to go. If you’re trying to lose weight, reduce your calories (especially sugars) – don’t think exercise alone will cut it. And even if you’re normal weight, you can’t subside solely on junk and stay healthy.

The authors end with this powerful finale: “It is time to wind back the harms caused by the junk food industry’s Public Relations machinery. Let us bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity. You cannot outrun a bad diet.”

Is it a “sin” to use other people’s music on social media?


Copyright law is a complicated topic, but get it wrong and you could end up in legal hot water. You might think that if you don’t intend to monetize your video or if you’re just making a fan video, you’re in the clear to use copyrighted music on YouTube. But that’s far from the truth.

The fact is that unless your video is only for your personal use (as in, not sharing it online anywhere) you must get permission from the copyright holder to use any music on YouTube. But doing so isn’t always easy. Even just tracking down the owner can be tricky, but this guide will walk you through how to legally use copyrighted music.

What Might Happen If You Don’t Get Permission?


Best case scenario, if you don’t get permission to use a song in your video, you might be asked to take it down. But you might also face more severe consequences. For example, if you post your video on YouTube, you could get a copyright strike against your account or have the audio on your video muted. Any ad money might be given to the copyright holder, or in a worst case scenario, you could get sued.

To avoid the legal headaches (and potentially expensive fees and settlements) you’ll need to make sure you have explicit permission from the copyright holder to use any music.

How to Get Permission to Use a Song in Your Video?

The first step in getting permission to use recorded material is determining who owns the copyright and contacting them.

However, it’s not a matter of just contacting the artist or record label. In fact, there are two (or more) rights owners to a given piece of recorded music — the rights to the written song (including the composer, lyricist, and/or music publisher) and the rights to the particular recording (the record label and performer/s.)

 How Do You Find the Copyright Owner of a Song?

Often, tracking down the owner and successfully contacting them is the most challenging part of getting permission, but a good place to start is with the music publisher or the record company.

You can often find the contact information for music publishers through performing rights societies, since all professional songwriters and music publishers belong to one of these organizations. ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC are the main organizations, and members can only belong to one of them. Try searching their databases for a given title, but if you don’t find it at one society, the copyright owner likely belongs to one of the other two. If you find the title here, you should also find the contact information for the owner.

If you can’t find the copyright holder through these organizations, you can try contacting music licensing companies (PRS) for Music (which represents composers, writers and publishers) or PPL (which represents performers and record companies) for information about recordings they license.

How to Ask for Permission to Use a Song?

Once you’ve tracked down the copyright holder, you can contact them, usually by writing a letter. Refer to this sample letter or follow this guide. The main thing is to identify yourself, the song you want to use, and explain how/where it will be used. Finally, you can ask them to sign and return the letter by way of agreement, or contact you to negotiate.

If you expect your usage/views to be very limited, you may get permission to use the piece for free, but if you expect to profit from or monetize your video, you will likely need to pay the owner a fee.

How Much Does It Cost to License a Song?

The cost to license a copyrighted song can vary widely. The cost for a song from a small independent artist might be less than $100, while a track by a major artist or label can run thousands of dollars. Some licenses might also charge you a percentage of revenue instead. The key is to carefully read the terms of the license to know what you’re getting into. Licensing services like Getty and others have clear, easy to understand terms, which makes them an appealing option for creators.

Alternatives to Getting Permission

If you’re not up to the task of tracking down the copyright owner, you can purchase a royalty-free license. Note that royalty-free doesn’t necessarily mean the license itself is free, just that you won’t pay royalties for using it. There are free royalty-free options, however. YouTube’s own Audio Library is a good place to start. You can also search for pieces that are in the public domain and therefore free to use.

15 Reasons why Trump hates the book “Fire & Fury” with passion



Sex, lies, tears, fears — and lots of profanity.

All of that and more is in Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” to be published Tuesday by Henry Holt. It features riveting behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Trump’s White House, including juicy details on how the most powerful men and women in Washington worked together to make Trump president — and turned on one another after he took the oath of office.


Here are a few of the many revelations from the 310-page book.

1. TRUMP WAS CRANKY: Trump, angered by the quality of his accommodations the night before the inauguration at Blair House, was so unhappy he bickered the next morning with his wife, Melania.

“Too hot, bad water pressure, bad bed,” Wolff wrote. “Throughout the morning, he was visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears and would return to New York the next day; almost every word he addressed to her was sharp and peremptory.”

2. SEPARATE BEDROOMS: The Trumps are sleeping in separate quarters in the White House, the book says. According to Wolff, that hasn’t happened since the Kennedys.

3. THE HAIR: Long the subject of curiosity and ridicule, Trump’s coif gets a fresh look in the book, with daughter Ivanka describing the First Hair.

“An absolutely clean pate — a contained island after scalp reduction surgery — surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray,” Wolff writes of Ivanka’s explanation of her dad’s do, noting the color is from Just for Men. “The longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump’s orange-blond hair color.”

4. HOPE HICKS & COREY LEWANDOWSKI: The two aides were in a relationship during the campaign, according to the book.

Lewandowski, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign from its start to April 2016, and Hicks, a campaign spokeswoman who is now Trump’s White House communications director, had an on-again, off-again romantic relationship, Wolff wrote. After Lewandowski was fired, she worried about her ex’s treatment by the press, prompting Trump to console her.

“You’ve already done enough for him,” Trump told her. “You’re the best piece of tail he’ll ever have.”

5. FEARS AND TEARS: Everyone in the Trump family, including Donald Trump himself, was shocked that he won on Election Night.

Wolff wrote that Melania was terrified Trump could win. Trump offered his wife a solemn guarantee: There was simply no way he would prevail, according to the book. But on Election Night, after it became clear Trump would be the victor, Melania was in tears — but not tears of joy, Wolff wrote.

6. WHO GIVES HIM ADVICE: When Trump was confronted by Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’S “Morning Joe” about whom he consults with, the new president was frank.

“You won’t like the answer, but the answer is me,” Trump responded, according to the book. “I talk to myself.”

7. KEEP OUT: Trump was so scared of being poisoned, he had a lock installed on his bedroom inside the White House, causing friction with the Secret Service.

The Secret Service didn’t like the lock because agents insisted they must have access to the room, according to “Fire and Fury.” According to the book: “Then he imposed a set of new rules: nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush. (He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely remade.)”

8. FLYNN WAS WARNED: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a target of the Russia probe who last month pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, was warned about accepting money from Russia for a December 2015 speech in Moscow.

According to Wolff, Flynn was informed that it had not been a good idea to take a $45,000 speaking fee from the Russians. Flynn responded that “it would only be a problem if we won,” Wolff wrote.

9. THE OBAMAS WERE “VERY ARROGANT”: Trump didn’t like how Barack and Michelle Obama acted during the pre-inauguration meeting between the outgoing and incoming first couples.

Trump believed that the Obamas acted “disdainfully — ‘very arrogant’ — toward him and Melania,” according to the book.

10. RUDY FOR SCOTUS: Trump has repeatedly pointed to his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as one of the signature achievements of his first year in office. But, according to Wolff, Trump actually wanted a loyalist on the bench and was considering Rudolph Giuliani.

Before choosing Gorsuch, Trump “kept returning” to Giuliani because the former New York City mayor and Trump campaign surrogate had backed him up after the “Access Hollywood” tape fiasco.

11. “TAKE A SHOWER, STEVE”: Trump was never shy about insulting Bannon, his chief White House strategist.

“Guy looks homeless. Take a shower, Steve. You’ve worn those pants for six days,” Trump said at one point, according to Wolff.

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon delivers remarks during the Value Voters Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, U.S., Oct. 14, 2017.
Mary F. Calvert / Reuters

12. JARED AND IVANKA WANTED COMEY OUT: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were convinced that the FBI Director might go after the Kushner family’s real estate dealings and encouraged the president to fire him.

The book says that Comey became the focus of Trump family discussions and they feared he would rise by damaging them.

13. TRUMP THOUGHT FIRING COMEY WAS HEROIC: Trump was initially pleased with his decision in May to fire FBI Comey — even though it quickly led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel in the federal Russia probe.

The president thought that ousting Comey would show he could stand up to the FBI, Wolff wrote.

14. TRUMP WANTED TO ATTEND THE WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS DINNER: Trump skipped the annual celebration amid a very public feud with the media. But Wolff writes that Trump actually wanted to participate and sought from aides the latest news from the celebration as it was occurring, asking for updates on the jokes.

Jared Kushner, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, listens during a meeting with small business leaders at the White House in Washington on Jan. 30, 2017.
Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

15. EVERYONE HATES EVERYONE, BASICALLY: Wolff paints a clear picture that alliances inside the White House are scarce and venom is omnipresent. Chief of Staff John Kelly doesn’t like Trump’s family, he writes; Gary Cohn has contempt for Kushner, and Trump himself even has wondered at times when Kushner and Ivanka might quit.

“Kelly’s long-suffering antipathy toward the president was rivaled only by his scorn for the president’s family,” Wolff wrote.

(Thanks to NBC News)

Coming in our lifetime: Germany’s “train of the future”

Train travel just got even more attractive.

European train rides have long been favored by the well-traveled, bringing us back in time with champagne bars and grand suites (the Belmond Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) and even serving as inspiration for The Hogwarts Express (The Jacobite Steam through Scotland). Across the continent, train travel allows travelers to seamlessly cross borders and swap cities with little more than a ticket in-hand, all the while taking in spectacular sights. And in years to come, it could grow more appealing to commuters, too.

Last week, German railway company Deutsche Bahn unveiled ‘Ideenzug,’ which translates to ‘Idea Train’—a regional train of the future, if you will. The project has been in the works for years, and while it’s still in the development stage, the commuter train could be decked out with everything from “reservable sports cabins” with spin bikes and digital personal trainers to big screen TVs, an area to play video games, and “privacy pods” where travelers can snag a little R&R. Suffer from motion sickness? Chairs on the Idea Train would swivel, facing any direction you want. Some of the seats would also be “noise-canceling,” thanks to a curved design and glass panes separating seats. It’s unclear where exactly the Idea Train would run, but the project is in partnership with Germany’s Southeast Bavarian Railway.

Idea Train
Courtesy Deutsche Bahn

Chairs on the Idea Train will swivel, facing any direction you want.

Future tests will help determine which design ideas prove most promising, Jörg Sandvoss, the CEO of Deutsche Bahn Regio told International Railway Journal. “When developing such concepts, it is not about implementing a train with all the creative ideas at once, but rather taking individual approaches into consideration for new trains,” he said.

The Idea Train hopes to compete with both the impending reality of self-driving cars—as well as, locally, the construction of Germany’s A94 highway, which will stretch from Munich to Simbach am Inn when it’s completed in 2019, according to The Local.


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