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Human Smuggling

Human Smuggling

HSI investigates human smuggling networks that pose a national security and public safety risk, jeopardize lives, or engage in violence, abuse, or extortion.

Human smuggling is a multibillion-dollar industry for transnational criminal organizations that do not value human safety and take advantage of vulnerable people. It threatens U.S. border security and public safety and is one of the many crimes that HSI investigates.

Human smuggling involves bringing noncitizens into the United States by deliberately evading immigration laws and unlawfully transporting and harboring noncitizens who are already unlawfully present in the United States. Human smuggling is a gateway crime for additional criminal offenses, including illegal immigration, identity theft, document and benefit fraud, gang activity, financial fraud and terrorism.

Understanding Human Smuggling

The driving purpose for human smugglers to commit this crime is money. They have no concern for humanity and are simply looking to make a profit. Generally, human smugglers:

  • Exploit legitimate trade and travel routes to bring people into the United States.
  • Move humans as part of cargo transports in vehicles, boats, tractor-trailers and boxcars on trains, and in automobiles and trucks that are transported as cargo on trains.
  • Provide fake identification documents to those being smuggled, co-opting government officials, altering and falsifying government documents, and stealing identities.
  • Charge vulnerable individuals a lot of money to be smuggled into the United States, often in unsafe conditions. The smugglers are not concerned about whether people are safe; they just want to be paid.

Human Smuggling’s Impact

Human smuggling often impacts people, communities and societies in the following ways:

  • Security risks. Smuggling networks may be linked to other forms of organized crime, such as drug trafficking, weapons smuggling and terrorism. This poses security risks to source and destination countries, including threats to public safety and border security, and further endangers American lives.
  • Trafficking and exploitation. In some cases, people who are smuggled may become victims of human trafficking or exploitation during their journeys or upon reaching their destination. They may be forced into labor or sex trafficking, or their families may be extorted. They can also be exploited by criminal networks in other ways.
  • Health risks. Smuggling routes and conditions expose people to health hazards, including lack of access to medical care, unsanitary conditions and the spread of infectious diseases. This can lead to illness, injury, and even death among smuggled migrants.
  • Economic costs. Smuggling often costs migrants and their families large amounts of money. They often pay additional fees for certain types of transportation. For example, a person may pay extra money for transport in a tractor-trailer because the chance of making it across the border is greater in a truck than it is on foot.
  • Impact on transit countries. Transit countries are the countries smuggling victims pass through on their way to the United States. These countries are negatively impacted by overstressed medical resources, social services and law enforcement, as well as social instability and rises in organized crime.

HSI's Response to Human Smuggling

To mitigate the threat of human smuggling, HSI focuses on criminal investigations into smuggling networks that pose national security and public safety risks, jeopardize lives, or engage in violence, abuse or extortion.

Identify, Trace, and Dismantle Networks

HSI identifies the people and networks that engage in human smuggling. Special agents trace their movements and money by looking at how criminals use cross-border systems to smuggle people.

HSI targets and investigates all links in the human smuggling chain, including overseas recruiters and organizers, fraudulent document vendors and facilitators, corrupt officials, financial facilitators, and transportation and employment infrastructures that facilitate and benefit from human smuggling.

Coordination with Domestic and International Partners

HSI works with other federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement partners to better identify and trace criminal activities. HSI and its partners:

  • Disrupt the efforts of organizations attempting to smuggle humans into the United States from special interest countries.
  • Identify and dismantle pipelines used to smuggle migrants through Central and South America.
  • Seize millions of dollars from entities actively violating U.S. immigration and money laundering laws.
  • Take down networks of transportation and harboring cells that endanger migrants by exposure, abandonment, or unsafe transportation methods.

HSI has years of expertise in how cross-border systems, actors and flows operate, working with foreign and U.S. partners to disrupt smuggling organizations, arrest criminals and seize illicit funds. We continue to protect people at home and abroad from these criminal networks.

Combating human smuggling requires a multifaceted approach involving cooperation between governments, law enforcement agencies, international organizations and others. Through prevention and awareness and by continuing to build the capacity of interagency collaboration, HSI strives to mitigate the threats posed by these transnational criminal human smuggling networks operating around the globe.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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