EL PASO, Texasz (KHOU) -- Cartels have shifted smuggling operations to make millions of dollars off the mass migration of Central Americans and some now see higher profits from human smuggling than drugs.
"Of course they adapted. They said that's a money maker. That's what we want to do." "It's said Oscar Hagelsieb, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso.
This summer Homeland Security Investigations in Operation Coyote targeted those profits and the human smuggling networks moving people across the border.
"With human smuggling the product and I hate to word it that way. It's what it is. And the product, the commodity is humans. And the humans come with that money," said Hagelsieb.
So far Operation Coyote has seized $800,000 from "illicit bank accounts" and led to the arrest of 363 "smugglers and their associates" in south Texas according to a statement from issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security in late August.
The enforcement effort came after the influx of thousands of Central American families and unaccompanied children overwhelmed the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley.
In May and June Border Patrol agents took 10,000 Central Americans children into custody. The number fell to by roughly half in July. The reason for the sharp decline is not clear.
Mexico has stepped up enforcement operations along smuggling routes and is deporting more Central Americans before they reach the U.S. border.
And U.S. Customs and Border Protection launched a campaign in Central America to warn migrants not to put their lives in the hands of ruthless criminals who control lucrative smuggling corridors.
One public service announcement shows two shadows one is a young migrant in a baseball cap, the other and a man whose silhouette transforms into a coyote after he takes young man's money.
"We must also continue to interdict the payments to Coyotes to discourage migrants and their families from making these payments," said Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security Secretary in a press release about Operation Coyote.
Profits are so high the Zetas and Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas across the border from the Rio Grande Valley for now have shifted more of their focus from drug trafficking to human smuggling.
"Key operatives of the gulf cartel who before we had only intelligence of them running narcotics are now actively involved n human smuggling and human trafficking to the point where they've all but abandoned their drug smuggling activities," said Hagelsieb.
In some ways human smuggling is more profitable. When a cartel loses a load of drugs because it's seized on the border, it's a total loss. But migrants caught at the border are usually deported and likely often try to cross again.
"It's almost 100% profit for them and there's very little overhead, "said Hagelsieb.