Justice, DHS partnering to go after assets of migrant smugglers

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U.S. task force will avail legal and investigative resources so Northern Triangle countries can prosecute criminals, corrupt officials

CBP agents released this photo on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, showing several migrants who were found crammed inside a trailer. (Courtesy Photo)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Just as Vice President Harris was addressing migrant trafficking and corruption during her trip to Guatemala and Mexico, several federal agencies released details on initiatives targeting groups involved in the illicit trade and their assets.

The departments of Justice and Homeland Security are partnering on Task Force Alpha, which avails American investigators and prosecutors to help the governments of Mexico and Northern Triangle countries prosecute smugglers in their courts.

The task force will also complement Justice Department anti-corruption initiatives here through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. The first deals with bribes to foreign government officials; the latter authorizes rewards to those who help identify and recover proceeds linked to foreign government corruption stashed in U.S. financial institutions.

“Transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks pose a serious criminal threat,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “Our focus will remain on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit or endanger migrants, pose national security threats and are involved in organized crime.”

His department’s Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training as well as its International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program will avail “anti-corruption legal advisers” to Central American governments so they can build corruption cases overseas, he said.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas added he hopes the initiative will make the border more secure and save some migrant lives in the process.

Mayorkas previously had unveiled Operation Sentinel, which aims to map each smuggling organization’s network and its members. The goal is to revoke U.S. travel documents those individuals may hold, freeze their bank accounts and other assets, and suspend trade privileges for any licit business they may own.

Separately, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it is partnering with the National Insurance Crime Bureau to deny coverage to businesses believed to be associated with migrant-smuggling rings.

The agency did not identify what types of businesses could be involved.

However, a 2019 Rand Corporation report sponsored by DHS outlined a wide range of enterprises usually involved in the movement of migrants. Those include charter bus companies, taxi cab companies, commercial trucking companies and illicit travel agencies that provide fraudulent documents – from bogus birth certificates to passport visas – to migrants throughout Central America and Mexico.

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