Ed Calderon Discusses Human Smuggling

by Tommy Grant

The coyote is commonly used as a representation of mischief among native peoples in the Americas. The word now has been given to a very different group of characters. Trickery and performing miracles are part of who they are. However, that is about all they have in common with the gods of old. Human Smuggling is a deadly cat-and-mouse game with serious consequences.

Coyote is a term commonly used for human smugglers who work in Mexico, a profession that dates back to 1882 and the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act that cut the flow of cheap labor from Asia into the States. Demand for workers from Mexico filled the void. I convinced one of these coyotes to do this interview with questions I sourced from some of my followers on social media.

Human Smuggling in the Eyes of Our Coyote

In his late 30s, soft-spoken and a chain smoker, the man I’m about to talk to doesn’t look like anyone special. You wouldn’t guess he is one of the most successful coyotes working on the border. Some coyotes guide people across to specific points along the border; others, like the man I’m about to interview, do so much more. 

Two cell phones sit on the table; one is for family, and one is for the business of human smuggling. 

We are sitting outside a seafood place as we talk, and he is understandably nervous as he keeps responding to texts on his phone, ordering his people to do this and that while writing in a little moleskin notebook. I order a few beers to ease the mood, and when they get there, he waves his away, saying with a very serious tone, “I’m working, so no alcohol.”

I met this coyote through a contact I have had for years who works providing aid to the migrant communities that live on the border. My contact is a former member of the Catholic Church who now works as an intermediary between people just arriving at the border and people who have been deported. He puts them in touch with the coyote.

This coyote has been in the human smuggling game for years, and he knows it well.  His success is a product of word of mouth and recommendations from people who have successfully made it across. He embraced technology early on and is no stranger to things like cryptocurrency, drone technology, and countermeasures against most of the modernized security cameras and monitoring systems now in use on
the border. 

After a few days of phone conversations with third parties, he agreed to do this interview. 

EC: How did human smuggling become your mainstay?

A:  I immigrated legally years back but found myself in some legal trouble. I was deported because of this. I wanted to get back to my family that I left behind, so I went to a few people (smugglers) who were recommended to me by some of the people who were with me during my deportation process. They told me who to seek out. I tried three times unsuccessfully to get back across. I was basically robbed by some smugglers the second time I tried and left for dead in the desert. They took the last of my money from me.

After that, I figured I’d try my best to do it myself without any help. I went online and downloaded maps, went to forums to look for people giving out advice about it, studied a few army survival manuals, and basically educated myself on how to survive. I figured out fast to look out for larger groups of migrants moving across. The border patrol was stretched out and preferred to go after big groups of migrants instead of individuals. I shadowed a few groups like this as I made my way up. I made it back home to Northern California three days later. The thing with my family didn’t work out, as they tend to do when you are gone for a few years. My wife was with someone else when I got back, and well, that didn’t really work for me. 

My first night back, I got into it with the new boyfriend, and the cops were called. I ran, and without much to really live for up there, I spent a long night of reflection at a Motel 6.

I deal with high-paying customers — usually middle-class people who can pay. Some have legal problems in the U.S. or Mexico that keep them from crossing legally. Some have large families already in the U.S. paying for them. Usually, it's men, but women and children are always looking to cross, as well. I try not to deal with that too much. 

The Business of Human Smuggling

I was doing the math in my head of how much I had paid in failed crossings and how I could really do better than some of these people. At the border, I went back to the U.S. side and started developing some contacts and relationships with people.

One of the men I met was a guy in his late 60s who gave me a break. He let me help him run some safe houses where migrants would be holed up before being moved once they were across the border and in the U.S. I made it a point to be nice to everyone, and I gave my number to everyone who passed through that house. After a while, they were calling me to set up crossings for their family members, and my business started to grow. The old man who took me in passed away, and his sons were not ready to take on the workload, so, like any good businessman, I took control of the business. 

I then made my way back down to Mexico again to manage everything from there, and I have been doing it ever since. 

EC: How does this work? What would does the process of human smuggling look like?

A:  First off, you would never talk to me directly. I don’t do work for anyone who knows my face; that is just how I do business. I have people that do that for me. We don’t advertise online, and we don’t have ads in the paper. We mainly work through word of mouth, and we get recommended by people that we successfully cross into the U.S. 

So, you can call a number to ask about our services. One of our guys or girls gets your information, and then we call back and contact you after we make sure you are who you say you are. We have one face-to-face meeting and go from there. 

Next, there is no such thing as a single flat fee in human smuggling— at least not for us. We charge depending on how individuals want to get across. It depends on their risk, their ages, the type of crossing we use to get them in, etc. Some people are harder to move than others. For example, if it’s a mother with a small child or an elderly person with special needs, it won’t be easy or cheap to get across. We ask for payment upfront from people like this. We are not miracle workers, and we don’t offer guarantees. 

EC: What effects did you feel under the Trump administration?

A:  We have raised prices because of it, but it really hasn’t become harder to get people across. It is more that people are no longer trying to cross in big numbers, like a few years back, because they no longer feel welcomed in the U.S. We see people looking to Canada now more and more. We take advantage of the feeling of it being harder to cross. The truth is that we have networks set up that haven’t really changed for years. Our halfway houses are still there, and we are still getting people across, and we are still getting paid. The walls are already up, and we have found ways around them. 

EC: What can you tell me about how you get people across?

A:  Without giving too much away, we have land, sea, and air options for people. People often imagine a line of people crossing a border fence at night in the desert. This is not always the case. 

We buy stolen passports and border crossing cards, or we rent them from people, for example. 

EC: Do people rent their passports and IDs?

A:  Yes. People have needs. We look for people on both sides of the border willing to do this for us, and they get their cut. You would be surprised by the types of people doing it — housewives, young men in the universities — people like that. 

Do you want to cross? We can find you a lookalike in our catalog. We can get you an official ID to match it and even a car with the name attached to it. And you just drive across. We give them something to calm their nerves, and we coach them. And we know and observe the people that work the border crossings. We see what lanes are being manned by agents who are not really paying attention, and we aim our attempts at these lanes. This is just one example of what we do. 

Do you want to cross? We can find you a lookalike in our catalog. We can get you an official ID to match it and even a car with the name attached to it. And you just drive across. We give them something to calm their nerves, and we coach them.

EC: Aren’t you giving too much away?

A:  We know they know. What they don’t know, I won’t say. There are more levels to it; that’s all I can say. 

EC: What role does technology play in your world?

A:  From communication to payment, it’s a big part of what we do. If you don’t get wise about technology, it will end you. For example, I never use the same phone for different clients. I have use-and-discard phones, especially for business travel. I never bring anything electronic from work into my personal life. Also, I use public transportation to move away from my regular life and enter my business life. I change clothes and dump everything when I need to go back home. I am careful. Among other things, I worry about corrupt cops here in Mexico trying to extort money from me and about rivals trying to eliminate competition. 

Cryptocurrency is something we now use, and drones, as well. We can see the people that want to see us before they see us. We have eyes, too.

EC: Are you worried at all about getting arrested by Mexican police?

A:  Human trafficking is a federal crime. If you get caught and have money, you get out. That is really it. So, no, I don’t really put that fear high on my list. I have already gotten out of it a few times. I pay people to take care of me. As long as I do that, I’m good. 

EC: You mean you pay for protection? Pagas piso? (As we say in Mexico.)

A:  I can’t talk about that. 

EC: Do you carry a gun?

A:  Yes, when I need to. I don’t need to now, but we have the means to defend ourselves. Also, I carry cash money. I get out of more problems with my head, a smile, and cash money than with bullets. People who learn this early on live longer. 

EC: What type of people usually seek you out to cross?

A:  I deal with high-paying customers — usually middle-class people who can pay. Some have legal problems in the U.S. or Mexico that keep them from crossing legally. Some have large families already in the U.S. paying for them. Usually, it’s men, but women and children are always looking to cross, as well. I try not to deal with that too much. 

EC: Are you talking about the kids from Central America that came during the Obama administration?

A:  Yes. They were being brought in on buses. It was odd. I don’t know exactly what was going on, but there was money behind that whole thing. Someone made a fortune moving all of them up there. 

EC: What do you think about the sex trafficking trade?

A:  I don’t touch anything like that. That is done by scary people that I don’t associate with. But it is a very real business, and it is operating under the noses of most people in big U.S. cities and Mexico. People are delusional if they think this can’t affect them. The people who work that side of things are everywhere, and you would never know it by looking at them. They go for girls who are ten years old and up. It’s a nasty business, and you really can’t pay your way out of the problems that it brings. Even corrupt cops have lines they won’t cross. 

EC: Do you think you are exploiting your customers with what you’re doing? I mean, not all of them make it, and some might be bad people looking to do bad things.

A:  Listen, I sell hope. I do miracles. I do things immigration lawyers who went to school for years cannot do. Some don’t make it, but it’s the risk they get informed about before they pay. I get prayer cards and gifts on Christmas from people I crossed years back. I get home, and I sleep well. If God were against me, he would find a way to make me stop. I feel I am doing what I need to be doing. Can you do what I can do? No, of course not. I’m not angry at the question. I’m just being very clear about how I feel about it. 

EC: You mentioned God. Are you a man of faith?

A:  Everyone that lives dangerously is, no? I am. I go to Mass, and I pay my respects. 

EC: Currently, there is this recurring depiction of people like you smuggling Muslim terrorists across the border. Is this something that you think could happen? Has it happened already?

A:  It’s hard to say. I would never do it, knowing that they have these intentions. I don’t think anyone would, really. They are bad for business. If you want to be hunted down for letting people like this into the U.S., they will find you. That said, I have heard of and have known people who do this work of moving people from the Middle East through the border. I would never do it, but it has happened. 

EC: If you could tell people one thing about human smuggling currently, what would it be?

A:  The new president is very good for my business. That should tell you a lot about him. 

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