DHS-Led Effort Makes 5,000th Smuggler Arrest in Fewer Than 6 Months
Launched in April 2022, the Biden Administration’s “Counter Human Smuggler” campaign—a first-of-its-kind effort of unprecedented scale led by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—is designed to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling networks. In less than six months, this new strategy has produced over a 500% increase in human smuggling disruption activity compared to similar past operations and has recently surpassed 5,000 smuggler arrests.
Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that control human smuggling are increasingly exploiting migrants seeking to get to our borders, capitalizing on lies and misinformation and showing very little regard for the lives they endanger every day. Human smuggling syndicates are run like businesses, drawn by high profit margins in what is now a multi-billion-dollar operation. Smuggling networks can be extensive and complex. The Counter Human Smuggler campaign focuses on disrupting key aspects of their criminal operations, including their territory, activities, financial assets, and ability to travel and conduct commerce. DHS has committed over $60 million to the effort and surged more than 1,300 personnel in Latin America and along the Southwest Border.
Because of these increased law enforcement efforts, human smuggling organizations have been forced to change their tactics. Some have shifted their routes. They moved their stash houses – the locations where they hold people being smuggled or stash illicit weapons– further away from the border. They have also increased what they charge and often do not guarantee passage across the border. The smugglers have begun using new methods to conceal and transport migrants. In addition to the arrests, 5,549 disruptions of human smuggler infrastructure have also been carried out, which includes raiding smuggler stash houses, impounding tractor trailers that are used to smuggle migrants, and confiscating smuggler IT to track down more smugglers.
Achieving the 5,000th arrest milestone in less than six months demonstrates the effectiveness of this DHS-led interagency collaboration with partners from the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, and other federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and foreign allies.
A snapshot of the campaign’s results, which includes DHS components U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP):
- Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Midland, HSI Guatemala City, the HSI Guatemala Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU), and over 500 Guatemalan law enforcement and military personnel executed a large-scale takedown of human smugglers, consisting of 28 search warrants, resulting in the seizures and arrests of 19 individuals for human smuggling. Four of the subjects will be extradited to the U.S. for prosecution in the Western District of Texas for the death of a migrant in a human smuggling event, the first time for this type of extradition from Guatemala. HSI seized over 200 cell phones, 10 vehicles, six firearms, and foreign currency valued at $90,000 in U.S. dollars.
- HSI, with assistance from the United States Border Patrol (USBP) and its state and local law enforcement partners, successfully executed four search warrants, arrested 13 subjects, and apprehended 12 undocumented non-citizens (UNC). Included in these arrests were several leaders of a human smuggling and money laundering organization. The 12 UNCs, all Mexican nationals, were apprehended at a stash house in Laredo, Texas. HSI seized numerous phones, ledgers, computers, seven firearms, three vehicles, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and an estimated $150,000 in cash and monetary instruments. Additionally, HSI indicted three residences in and around Austin, Texas and anticipate the seizure of these properties, which were purchased with illicit proceeds.
- This interagency campaign also moved quickly to respond to the June 2022 mass casualty event that occurred in San Antonio, Texas, when more than 50 UNCs from Mexico and countries in Central America lost their lives s inside the back of a tractor trailer. The swift investigation led to four (4) criminal arrests to date in the United States linked to a criminal smuggling organization, and a main target of investigation has been identified outside of the United States. Investigators continue to gather evidence against the organization responsible in anticipation of future enforcement actions.
Human smuggling is, by definition, a transnational problem. Through its Counter Human Smuggling campaign, the Biden Administration is focused on putting these organizations out of business and working with regional partners in the Americas to apply collective expertise and resources to disrupt and dismantle these transnational criminal organizations.
This campaign is consistent with our commitments under the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection endorsed at the Summit of the Americas in June of this year. On October 6, 2022, foreign ministers and representatives from among the twenty-one endorsing countries of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection met in Lima, Peru, to advance the shared response to irregular migration and forced displacement throughout the Western Hemisphere. A U.S. Department of State fact sheet detailing progress on existing commitments made under the Los Angeles Declaration can be found here.