Police accuse Chelbe Moraes of charging Brazilians who lack valid U.S. visas around $20,000 each to enter the United States via Mexico

Record numbers of Brazilians have been arrested at the U.S. southern border this year, part of the United States’ broader migration crisis. Police believe a child-custody dispute has led them to one of the smugglers moving migrants north, Reuters reports.

In early June, Brazilian federal police arrested Chelbe Moraes, a businessman who had allegedly absconded with his three-year-old daughter when he lost custody to his ex-partner. After tapping the phones of Moraes’ associates, the officers began to suspect he was a veteran people smuggler, or “coyote.”

In a June 25 police report sent to a federal judge and seen by Reuters, they asked that criminal charges of child trafficking, human smuggling and criminal conspiracy be filed against Moraes.

Police accuse him of charging Brazilians who lack valid U.S. visas around $20,000 each to enter the United States via Mexico. To pull it off, Moraes has constructed an international network that includes corrupt cops and officials as well as U.S-based family members, the court filing says.

Reuters spoke to more than 20 people with knowledge of the case, including police, immigration officials, associates of Moraes and three people who claimed to be his clients. Those interviews paint a picture of a seasoned people smuggler whose business has thrived amid political and economic turmoil in Brazil. (Read more) 

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