Last week, Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division convened a meeting in San Diego to highlight the progress of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTF Alpha) in recognition of the one-year anniversary since its formation.
AAG Polite brought senior leadership from the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) together with members of the task force to discuss how to ensure that JTF Alpha is empowered to continue its significant progress moving forward. Participants included U.S. Attorneys Randy S. Grossman for the Southern District of California, who helped host the meeting, Jennifer Lowery for the Southern District of Texas, Ashley C. Hoff for the Western District of Texas; Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Savel for the District of Arizona; Assistant Director Steve Cagen of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Acting Commissioner Troy A. Miller of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and interagency members of JTF Alpha.
Since its creation, JTF Alpha has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department and DHS, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States, and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorneys Offices across the country. JTF Alpha has been comprised of detailees from southwest border U.S. Attorney’s Offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Criminal Division that are part of JTF Alpha – led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP), and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Office of International Affairs (OIA), and the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). JTF Alpha is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and other partners.
Leading up to the meeting, AAG Polite led senior leaders from the Justice Department and DHS components in a visit to the southwest border in San Diego. AAG Polite and other senior leaders met with law enforcement officials at the border and received briefings on current operations. The tour provided an important perspective on challenges presented by transnational criminal organizations involved in human smuggling and other crimes who impact border security efforts by land, sea, and air.
“I am proud of the success of Joint Task Force Alpha,” said AAG Polite. “We are better at dismantling human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and elsewhere because we are a stronger, unified law enforcement team. I believe our collective efforts to combat these crimes will continue to generate immediate results, while building towards greater, enduring positive impacts.”
At the outset of the meeting, AAG Polite expressed his appreciation for the broad and continued support of JTF Alpha and highlighted that, in its first year, this joint law enforcement effort has resulted in substantial disruption through specific and general deterrence – collaborating on numerous high priority investigations and cases of significant organizations and their key leaders and facilitators, resulting in dozens of arrests, indictments, and convictions both in the United States and with foreign law enforcement partners, along with obtaining substantial jail sentences and asset forfeiture. AAG Polite praised the partnership between a myriad of law enforcement agencies in attendance, including ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), CBP, U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI, and the DEA in concert with JTF Alpha prosecutors, to tackle this important mission.
The U.S. Attorneys, Chief Assistants, and their designated JTF Alpha prosecutors spoke about smuggling trends and challenges in their respective districts and ways to better employ JTF Alpha resources. ICE Assistant Director Cagen and CBP Acting Commissioner Miller spoke about the need to continue coordinating law enforcement counter-network strategies and prioritizing support for JTF Alpha.
Participants discussed ways to further advance JTF Alpha’s mission to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras; and to identify ways to strengthen efforts to disrupt and dismantle those human smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse or exploit those being smuggled, pose national security risks, or have links to transnational organized crime.
JTF Alpha leadership provided an assessment of the initiative’s progress thus far and its plans to continue and enhance its work; and prosecutors and agents presented case studies and discussed various investigations and successful cases including: A Bangladeshi national sentenced to 46 months in prison for his role in a scheme to smuggle undocumented individuals from Mexico into the United States, the takedown of a prolific transnational human smuggling organization operating in Nogales, Sonora, along the U.S.-Mexico border, the over 38-year prison sentence of a Cuban national who was using his border ranch as a criminal corridor to further his drug trafficking and human smuggling activities, and the sentencing of two human smugglers responsible for attempting to smuggle 14 Mexican citizens by sea to the shores of La Jolla, California, resulting in the tragic drowning death of a 43-year-old passenger, the guilty pleas and sentencings in Arizona of individuals involved in human smuggling organizations responsible for smuggling, transporting, and harboring over 100 undocumented nationals from Guatemala and Mexico, and the indictment of eight defendants on charges of human smuggling and drug smuggling for their involvement in an international scheme to smuggle 24 undocumented individuals and cocaine from Honduras into Louisiana via boat. Additionally, JTF Alpha leadership identified enhancements made to increase the efficiencies of the Task Force model at the local and national level and discussed ways to better foster interagency collaboration to target criminal organizations involved in smuggling and related crimes in and through the region.
The meeting ended with a commitment of continued support for JTF Alpha’s work and that of the assigned prosecutors devoted to the task force from each district. ICE Assistant Director Cagen and CBP Acting Commissioner Miller committed to ensuring that law enforcement strategies prioritize JTF Alpha support, enhance information sharing, and focus on investigative collaboration. AAG Polite confirmed that the Criminal Division, including numerous components that participate in the initiative, remains steadfast in its support and prioritization of JTF Alpha and assured everyone that the department is focused on its continued success. AAG Polite also thanked the meeting attendees for their valuable and faithful service, and for the professionalism and inestimable dedication of the prosecutors, agents, analysts, and all other personnel supporting JTF Alpha.