Human smuggling has become a critical law enforcement and border security challenge. It is an enabling factor for the unprecedented irregular migration of Central Americans and other people who have been migrating to the U.S. Southwest Border.
Human smuggling endangers the people who seek out the service of smugglers. Smugglers take migrants through dangerous areas where criminal groups often target them. To be sure, smugglers often prey on their clients. In so doing, the smugglers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. The line between human smuggling and human trafficking is blurred. Those who hire human smugglers can become the victims of human traffickers.
Transnational criminal organizations exploit migrants, and human smuggling organizations are sprawling, sophisticated international criminal organizations profiting from the multibillion-dollar human smuggling industry. They are often affiliates or wholly owned subsidiaries of violent drug cartels and transnational gangs wreaking violence in Mexico and the Northern Triangle. For far too long, they have operated with impunity.
Interagency Human Smuggling Disruption Effort
In April, the Biden Administration launched a first-of-its-kind effort, unprecedented in scale, to disrupt and dismantle these human smuggling networks. An interagency effort led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has committed over $50 million and surged over 1,300 personnel in Latin America and along the Southwest Border. DHS is working with our international partners and collaborating to bring the swift hand of justice down on these criminal organizations.
This interagency effort is organized around five pillars focused on different aspects of criminal operations:
Operation Expanded Impact: An enhanced investigative effort led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI has deployed more than 700 additional personnel to support DHS enforcement efforts along the Southwest Border and across Latin America with partner nations.
Operation Sentinel: Identifies human smugglers and their associates to restrict their ability to travel, conduct commerce, or finance their operations. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) National Targeting Center (NTC) leads this effort through its unique systems and analytical capabilities to identify suspicious activities and persons, which information CBP operationalizes through its border authorities and partnerships with other agencies.
Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA): Law enforcement taskforce, which is led by the Department of Justice and supported by DHS. The taskforce focuses on the investigation and prosecution of the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle.
Financial Disruption: Led by the Treasury Department, which identifies opportunities to leverage its unique authorities to disrupt human smuggler financial assets.
Intelligence Community (IC): Support for these efforts have been enhanced through the Migration Crises Cell led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This support is focused on providing improved indications and warnings of illegal migrant movements and identifying human smuggling networks. DHS is helping to improve intelligence capabilities by expanding on its existing Migration Indications and Warning Cell.
In the last two months these marquee programs have deployed over 1,300 personnel to execute nearly 30,000 law enforcement actions to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling organizations in Latin America. These agents have worked with international partners to attack these smuggling gangs at every point in their infrastructure and seize financial assets of smugglers, raid stash houses that hide migrants, impound busses and tractor trailers used to smuggle people and seize their illicit cargo. Moreover nearly 2,000 smugglers have been arrested through this program in the last eight weeks alone. These efforts exceed a 600% increase in law enforcement actions taken against human smuggling organizations compared to efforts in previous years. In short, this is the first time in American history a law enforcement campaign of this scale has been launched to attack human smuggling criminals everywhere in the Western Hemisphere and diminish their ability to exploit migrants.
These disruption actions are producing results. DHS is already seeing changes in these organizations’ tactics. They changed the routes used to smuggle humans. They shifted stash house locations away from the border to avoid raids. They increased prices for smuggling and no longer guarantee passage at the border. Further, DHS estimates based on assessment of various factors that these disruption efforts are slowing, stopping, or reversing the flow of approximately 900 migrants each day.
The Biden Administration is focused on putting these organizations out of business. But human smuggling is, by definition, a transnational problem and we are committed to working with our regional partners in the Americas to commit our collective expertise and resources to put an end to human smuggling.