ICE Homeland Security Investigations announces results of operation to combat human smuggling


POSTED: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 3:58pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 8:59am

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson today announced the results of an ongoing 90-day operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to target human smuggling operations in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Operation Coyote, a surge operation conducted as part of HSI’s overall efforts to target and dismantle human smuggling operations across the Southwest border, began June 23. Less than a month into this three-month operation, 191 smugglers and their associates have been arrested on criminal charges, more than 450 undocumented aliens taken into custody and nearly $600,000 in illicit profits seized from 288 bank accounts held by human smuggling organizations.

Examples of enforcement actions taken in this ongoing operation include:

  • On July 8, HSI special agents in McAllen, Texas, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol agents, arrested three suspected smugglers and 91 undocumented aliens, including 12 unaccompanied children. The individuals were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, China, Nicaragua and Mexico.
  • On July 9, HSI special agents in McAllen, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol, rescued a Honduran woman who was being threatened and held against her will by her smugglers. Her family member in Alexandria, Virginia, was being extorted for $2,000 in exchange for her release. Two Mexican nationals were arrested in McAllen on alien smuggling charges. HSI Washington, D.C., and the Alexandria Police Department are assisting with the investigation.
  • On July 17, HSI special agents in McAllen, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol and the Palmview, Texas, Police Department identified an alien stash house in Palmview with 46 undocumented aliens of various Central American nationalities and two suspected alien smugglers. The agents discovered the smugglers were a part of an alien and drug smuggling operation connected to the smuggling of over 460 undocumented aliens, more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana and 50 pounds of cocaine.
  • On July 17, HSI Del Rio special agents arrested a Honduran national in San Antonio for alien smuggling. The individual is a previously convicted cocaine smuggler and the leader of an alien smuggling organization known for smuggling more than 400 undocumented aliens into the United States since January 2013. A firearm in his possession was also seized. The Bexar County, Texas, Police Department assisted with the arrest.

As part of Operation Coyote, HSI is also pursuing money laundering activity associated with the transnational criminal activities of human and drug smuggling operations, particularly the exploitation of interstate funnel accounts. Interstate funnel accounts are bank accounts where individuals can make anonymous cash deposits in one state and an account holder in another state can immediately withdraw the money.

In an effort to expand their money laundering operations, transnational criminal organizations are employing the use of interstate funnel accounts to move their illicit proceeds swiftly and efficiently from one geographic location to another. In the instance of human smuggling, cash deposits are made anonymously throughout the country to pay off smuggling debts and then immediately withdrawn by the human smugglers. This money laundering technique provides an efficient method – and one that is harder for law enforcement to detect – to move illicit proceeds rapidly through financial institutions nationwide. To combat this, HSI is focused on identifying, targeting and dismantling criminal organizations using interstate funnel accounts in order to disrupt the larger networks involved in human smuggling.

Operation Coyote is a part of HSI’s ongoing surge operation and human smuggling initiative focused on identifying, disrupting and dismantling human smuggling and the criminal infrastructure that supports it, as well as associated criminal organizations along the southern border.

Since Operation Coyote began, HSI has deployed 60 special agents and support personnel and dedicated additional intelligence and programmatic support to these field offices to provide real-time tactical and operational support.

“Human smugglers have no regard for the value of a human life. Their only motivation is greed; there is no regard for the wellbeing of the human cargo that they smuggle,” said Deputy Special Agent in Charge, Aristides Jimenez, HSI San Antonio.

In May, HSI conducted Operation Southern Crossing, a month-long initiative along the U.S. southwest border in which 163 alien smugglers and other violators were arrested. HSI special agents also obtained 60 indictments and 45 convictions, seized 29 vehicles, nine firearms and more than $35,000 in illicit proceeds.

Human smugglers are motivated by profit, according to HSI, with smuggling fees ranging anywhere from a few hundred dollars for someone smuggled from Mexico to upwards of $5,000 to $10,000 per person for aliens smuggled from Central or South America. Smugglers may separate women from their children as another means of extorting more money and in severe cases, hold their human cargo hostage and demand more money from family members as a means to extort higher fees.

Human smugglers often transport their human cargo — men, women and children —through desolate terrain, without food or water, or in trucks or trailers without any ventilation. They also arrange for their human cargo to be taken to drop-houses under deplorable conditions with no way to communicate with relatives or to notify authorities if there is an emergency. Some smuggled aliens have been beaten or raped.

Human Smuggling Background

Human smuggling is a crime involving the importation of people into a United States via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This includes bringing undocumented aliens into the country, as well as transporting and harboring illegal aliens already in the U.S.

HSI has embarked on an ambitious strategy to disrupt and dismantle organized human smuggling networks. This strategy includes:

  • Conducting domestic and international intelligence-driven investigations to target human smuggling organizations placing particular emphasis on those smuggling organizations that pose a national security risk, are a significant threat to public safety, smuggle unaccompanied children, engage in violence, abuse and hostage-taking or extortion.
  • Coordinating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice as well as its state and local and foreign partners and others, to ensure the aggressive investigation and prosecution of human smuggling organizations globally.
  • Targeting all aspects of human smuggling networks including, recruiters, brokers, document providers, transporters, stash house operators and corrupt foreign officials that benefit from human smuggling. HSI further seeks to remove their profit incentive through the identification and seizure of assets and criminal proceeds.

The public is encouraged to report suspected human smuggling by calling the ICE tip line toll-free at 1-866-DHS-2ICE.

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