Coyotes making money, even with fewer customers

Fewer Mexican immigrants are coming to the United States, but that doesn't mean that coyotes, the people who smuggle Hispanics across the border, are following the basics of supply and demand economics and charging less for their services.

The immigration decline has been seen in fewer arrests along the border, which is largely tied to more Mexicans delaying illegal crossings because of the lack of jobs in America, according to a New York Times story.

But the inflation-adjusted fees that coyotes charge to smuggle someone into the United States have risen steadily since the early 1990s through 2008, with little influence from the business cycle in the United States, according to the New York Times Economix blog. The fees are now at about $3,000 per person and have been steadily rising since at about $500 in 1990.Even with fewer customers, being a coyote still looks to be a job that is in high demand in Mexico, with fees that keep rising, even in a recession.

The Times reports that about 226,000 fewer people emigrated from Mexico to other countries during the year that ended in August 2008 than during the previous year, a 25% decline. Most of the emigration, both legal and illegal, is to the United States.

The Mexican Migration Project surveys households in Mexico about migration trends, and comes up with all kinds of data on border crossings. A project manager told Economix that increased border enforcement after 1992 has led to a steady increase in coyote rental costs. Smugglers had to go to more distant locations to successfully get someone across the border, so their fees increased.

That's the perfect position to be in during any job market, but especially a downturn: To sell a job skill that is so difficult and in such demand that a premium price can be charged to a small group of customers.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at
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