Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and law enforcement authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico arrested 36 alleged human smugglers Friday during a large-scale multinational operation called “Operation Lucero.”
The operation targeted transnational criminal organizations suspected of illegally smuggling hundreds of individuals each week – including children and families – throughout Central America and Mexico into the United States. The operation resulted in 17 arrests in El Salvador, seven in Guatemala and 12 in Mexico,” DHS announced.
In addition to the arrests, 39 undocumented migrants were rescued, including 10 unaccompanied minors, 14 accompanied minors and 15 adults. Law enforcement authorities seized 22 properties – 20 in Guatemala and two in Mexico – valued in excess of $2 million in US currency. Four bank accounts containing the equivalent of $142,000, and bulk cash valued at $46,000 was seized, as well as 22 vehicles, six weapons, three smuggling boats, 11 boat engines, ammunition, bank cards, communication devices and an abundance of documents corroborating human smuggling.
“This operation was the direct result of the partnerships we’ve built and we will continue working to reinforce and grow these partnerships,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “We are sending a clear message to human smugglers that crossing borders will not protect them from the long arm of justice.”
The investigation leading to the arrests began in June 2014 with a call to the HSI Tip Line about suspected human smuggling activities. Subsequent simultaneous investigations conducted by the HSI attaché offices in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, in close coordination with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, the El Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office, led to Friday’s arrests. El Salvador’s Civil National Police, Guatemala’s Civil National Police, Mexico’s Federal Police, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, Mexico’s Naval Secretariat and Mexico’s Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime also played an instrumental role in the multinational effort.
“Those arrested face various charges in their home countries for multiple violations including money laundering and human smuggling,” DHS said, noting that, “Through the use of wire taps, surveillance, search warrants and information-sharing, this multinational investigation uncovered several transnational criminal organizations allegedly moving large numbers of individuals from various countries, including unaccompanied minors and family units, throughout Central America and to the United States. The organizations were allegedly smuggling hundreds of individuals through South Texas each week, using land routes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as maritime routes from Guatemala to Mexico.”
In addition to the 36 arrests, law enforcement authorities also executed 56 search warrants in the region. The investigationinto these organizations continues.
"OperationLucero marks an important success in our continued effort to dismantle human smuggling networks and further secure our nation’s border," said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. "Last year when we experienced an unprecedented surge in illegal migration from Central America through Mexico and into south Texas, I directed DHS law enforcement components to quickly expand our efforts and refine our focus on targeting the smuggling networks that facilitate this illegal migration. The arrests are just one example of the daily efforts and disruptions that our law enforcement personnel accomplish with our international partners."
"Overall, since these operations were launched in June 2014, HSI has initiated 594 human smuggling investigations, executed 1,244 criminal arrests, obtained 927 indictments and seized $807,117 in currency," Johnson added.
The Department of Homeland Security will continue to disrupt these smuggling networks as part of our broader security efforts.
Assisting in the investigation was Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Defense.
Through its International Operations, HSI has 65 operational attaché offices in 46 countries around the world. HSI special agents work closely with foreign law enforcement agencies through a robust network of specialized, vetted units known as Transnational Criminal Investigative Units. Additionally, HSI brings personnel from host countries to the United States to train at the Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.