A coyote or pollero is someone who specializes in human smuggling, bringing people across the United States border from Mexico.
Coyotes typically have extensive experience in smuggling people and other goods, and they use a variety of techniques to get their clients over the border, ranging from sneaking across the desert to hiding smuggled immigrants in trucks. Illegal border crossings are often extremely dangerous, and many coyotes command a high fee as a result; often, this fee must be paid up front, in case an immigrant does not make it across.
Many people differentiate between human smuggling and human trafficking when discussing the illegal flow of people across a border. A human smuggler like a coyote helps people get across the border for a fee, and then generally lets them go, while human traffickers exploit their victims, essentially selling them as slaves. However, in some cases, coyotes have been known to use manipulative or sleazy tactics to squeeze more money out of their clients, such as threatening them with the authorities or indicating that their relatives might be in danger.
There are a number of reasons to choose to use a coyote, rather than attempting to get a visa and immigrate legally. Many refugees turn to coyotes because they are denied refugee status or they cannot take the time to apply for refugee status, because they fear for their lives. In other cases, people are unfamiliar with the visa application process, unwilling to wait, or unwilling to deal with the bureaucratic red tape involved, which can be extensive. In areas where officials are corrupt, it may make more sense to pay a coyote than to pay a parade of officials demanding a cut from desperate visa applicants.
A coyote typically relies on a word of mouth reputation, with people at home and in the United States exchanging information about which coyotes are honest and reputable. If a coyote becomes known for demanding more money, for example, it may be difficult to find work. Once immigrants select a coyote, they rely on the coyote to guide them safely through the immigration process.
Because of tightening restrictions at the border, the role of the coyote has gotten much more complicated, and for immigrants, the process has become fraught with danger. Numerous immigrants die trying to cross the desert each year, and while some are found, providing closure for their families, others are simply never heard from again. Immigrants have also died while trapped in trucks and shipping containers, and some have drowned while trying to swim the Rio Grande, while others have been shot by border patrol or vigilante groups.