Two multinational operations recently led to the arrests of 41 human smuggling suspects linked to transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) as part of an ongoing effort in the region by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Operation Mesoamerica involved a 15-month multinational investigation that began with a tip from the ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Assistant Attaché Office in Merida, Mexico, and ended on June 28 with the arrest of 27 individuals throughout Central America.
The second operation led to 14 arrests in Columbia on June 27. Operation Mesoamerica falls under HSI’s Operation Citadel, a multinational effort to identify, disrupt, and dismantle TCOs, and other networks involved in human smuggling in South and Central America, and Mexico.
In 2015, Operation Citadel resulted in 210 criminal arrests, recovered 51 unaccompanied minors, $2,078,988 in seized currency, 2,133 biometric enrollments, and the initiation of 68 additional investigations.
Several ICE Attaché offices participated in Operation Mesoamerica, including Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Brazil, and El Salvador. HSI Washington, DC, HSI New York and US Customs and Border Protection also assisted with the investigation.
The arrests and prosecution of the cases are being handled by the Guatemalan National Police, the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office, the Salvadoran National Police, the Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office, the Panamanian National Police, the Panamanian Attorney General’s Office, the Costa Rican National Police, the Costa Rican Attorney General’s Office, the Honduran National Police and the Honduran Attorney General’s Office.
In a separate human smuggling investigation, which was not linked to Operation Mesoamerica, the ICE Attaché Colombia supported the Colombian National Police in an operation leading to 14 arrests in five Colombian cities and the execution of seven search warrants.
ICE said that evidence uncovered during the investigation revealed that the TCO in Colombia was smuggled individuals from Bangladesh through Colombia and Venezuela into the United States. During the operation, officials seized the equivalent of $6,000 USD in Colombian and Venezuelan currency and one weapon.
ICE Director Sarah R. Saldana said the relationships the agency builds with foreign authorities are fundamental to attacking TCOs.
“This operation is a reflection of the multilateral commitment to identifying and dismantling criminal networks involved in the illicit movement of people,” said Saldana. “Through this effort, we are demonstrating that when it comes to protecting our borders, the international community will operate as one in a united front against those involved in human smuggling.”