Guatemala Congress Passes "Anti-Coyote" Law

By Kausha Luna on November 25, 2015

Guatemala's Congress unanimously approved a bill last week amending the Migration Act. The newly passed "anti-coyote" law criminalizes the illegal activities of traffickers knowns as "coyotes."

The new legislation categorizes two types of crimes: illicit trafficking (movement of a person with the goal of exploitation) and smuggling (movement of a person, usually with his consent, across an international border) of Guatemalans, as actions that will be penalized with imprisonment of six to eight years. It also establishes penalties for those who illegally provide permanence and provide work for migrants.

Jean Paul Briere, head of the migration committee in Guatemala's Congress, said "It is a law enforcement structure that directly attacks organized crime dedicated to human trafficking." One of the articles reformed, Article 107, states those who gain monetary, material, or personal benefits for capturing, hosting, hiding, moving, or transporting Guatemalans so that they may migrate to another country without complying with legal requirements, are culpable of committing illegal trafficking. The prescribed sentences of six to eight can be increased under some conditions: if the migrant is a child, a pregnant woman, or the migrant's life has been endangered.

However, the law does not consider the migrant's own actions a crime. It should be noted that many of the prospective illegal immigrants pay the "coyote" a fee to be guided illegally across borders in hopes of entering the United States. In 2005 the state of Arizona passed a similar "anti-coyote" law, which was then used to charge smuggled illegal immigrants themselves, who paid to be sneaked into the country, as co-conspirators of smugglers. The Arizona law was struck down by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, ruling the state law deprived federal authorities of their exclusive right to prosecute crimes.

Guatemala's "anti-coyote" law is a response to a request made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in 2014 during his tour of Central America, in exchange for sustained support for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle – a plan to promote development and curb emigration from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. This support would come in the form of the president's Fiscal Year 2016 budget request, which included $1 billion for Central America, and Biden's promise to work with the U.S. Congress to increase assistance to the region in Fiscal Year 2015.