Central American children arriving at the U.S. border—60,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught by U.S. border agents since October—are not making the trek alone.

Many kids are guided north by coyotes, human traffickers hired to help migrants navigate the dangerous journey thousands of miles away, passing through several countries.

MORE: Why they flee: Life in the murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula, Honduras

The going rate for a coyote is $5,000, but much of that goes to paying off corrupt government officials, cops and gangs along the way.

It’s a lucrative, high-risk business estimated to bring in $6.6 billion a year for smugglers operating throughout Latin America, according to a 2010 United Nations report.

The coyotes who smuggle migrants to the United States form part of a notoriously secretive network, which is well-connected yet off the radar.

In this rare, exclusive interview with Fusion, a Honduran coyote in San Pedro Sula agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. What he told us offers a unique glimpse of the shadowy world of human smuggling.

The coyote says he brings six people to the United States every month, earning a total of $6,000, which he calls a good living for Honduras.

Minors are charged $5,000 each. All the coyote has to do is get them to the border — a four-day trek.

It’s “the biggest and best business that could have been created,” the coyote says.

“It’s a better business than drugs,” he added. But the drug cartels are involved, taking a bite along the way – on parts of the route they control in Mexico, he says.

The coyote’s rates might seem high for impoverished Central Americans, but he says it’s the cost of business in an industry where most of the money goes to paying bribes along the way. Visas, passports, checkpoints all come with a price, he says.

Honudran passports
A mixture of fake and real Hondurans passports used by a “Coyote” or guide to smuggle people from Honduras to the U.S.
Photo by Encarni Pindado

For a $7,000 passage, the coyote charges $3,500 up front, $1,000 at the border, and a final $2,500 when they arrive in the U.S., he said.

“You don’t really realize how many people [the coyote] is paying off,” he says. “It’s a monopoly that even the [Mexican] consulate is involved with.”

Fusion reached out the Mexican Embassy in Honduras for comment, but didn’t receive an answer by press time.

Human trafficking is an old business, but smuggling migrants from Latin America to the U.S. became a lot harder after September 11, 2001, according to this coyote.

“If before we passed 100 people in one night, now it’s 15,” he said. “Before they would walk for 2 nights, now it’s 4.”

The costs have also gone up — from $4,000 to $7,000, he says.

MORE:A reporter’s notebook: 7 days in the most dangerous city in the world

Produced by Encarni Pindado and Roberto Daza, video edited by Ingrid Rojas.

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