On a recent congressional trip to the Darién Gap in Panama, where tens of thousands of migrants begin their trek to the U.S. southern border, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., noted something remarkable.
Western Union outlets were stationed near migrant camps on either side of the gap, making it easy for relatives of migrants who are already in the United States to wire funds. Security officials say some of those funds are then used to pay off smugglers and members of cartels at various points along the migrants' trip to America.
Tiffany said he fears the COVID-19 stimulus payments approved by Congress may be driving some of the flow of money.
"They all get paid," he told Just the News A.M. TV show. "In fact, I suspect that some of those stimulus payments that are going out to illegals here in our country – that $1,400 they qualified for as the result of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed a couple months ago – are probably going back to the smugglers."
Tiffany isn't alone in his assessment.
Former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, who served under both Presidents Obama and Trump, said the assertion about the stimulus checks is correct.
"We've been saying for a very long time that any type of stimulus or funding going to illegal immigrants is going to end up one of two places," Morgan explained. "One – it's going to be utilized to further ongoing illegal immigration. Two – it will end up back in the hands of relatives and friends in their origin countries as remittances. And the numbers bear that out ... Mexican GDP is, in fact, reliant upon U.S. remittances."
Former Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan agreed.
"There's no doubt in my mind," that the checks have been used to fund cartels who accumulate fortunes in the smuggling industry. He said the decision by the Biden administration and members of Congress to send checks to illegal immigrants essentially is "completing the criminal conspiracy" of trafficking human beings across our border, because it is well understood by members of the government in whose hands the money inevitably ends up.
Though the majority of illegal immigrants currently crashing across the Mexico-U.S. border come from the "Northern Triangle" countries, which include Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the chain begins hundreds of miles to the south in countries with relaxed visa laws that more easily permit migrants to arrive undetected and begin their travel north.
Exact numbers are unknown, but one estimate pegs the death toll of people crossing the gap at 10%. Sexual assault and rape are also rampant along the jungle route.
Tiffany said he was told by the Border Patrol during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Panama that the pattern "goes much deeper, that this isn't just Mexico and Central America, but all the way down to South America."
"We just saw misery," he said in describing the people he saw making the journey across the 60 mile stretch of water, jungle, and mountainous terrain that divides North and South America. "We saw people with trench foot, we saw people that were pre-gangrenous with their feet looking as though they were about to fall off ... and many of these people said that if they had known what it was going to be like, they probably would have stayed in their home countries."
Homan called the Darién Gap a “significant weakness" to U.S. national security because criminal and terror elements have more free rein in the area. Tiffany agreed.
"If Vice President Harris is truly serious about being the point person for the administration, in regards to border security, she needs to go south of the Northern Triangle, because it starts with the Darién Gap," he said.
Beyond a forthcoming meeting between Harris and heads of Northern Triangle countries, it is entirely unclear that the administration has any concrete plans to confront the border issue.
Tiffany said his trip confirmed that that Biden/Harris administration's actions reviewing President Trump's immigration policies motivated the dramatic influx of migrants to the United States seen since January.
"We asked them 'Why are you coming here now?' and they said, 'because the Southern Border is open,'" Tiffany recalled. "The signal was sent on January 20, you can now come to America. Many of these people were leading decent lives, they're not people that should be asylees or are suffering from economic hardship."