US agents help catch smugglers in Central America

Arrests of undocumented migrants crossing the US southern border have fallen nearly 14% from a record high in May, in part due to a rise in US-assisted arrests of smugglers in America central, far from American soil, according to an internal briefing. materials obtained by NBC News.

Customs and Border Protection officers, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, including some in Central American countries, were responsible for arresting an average of 240 smugglers in a single week in June, according to the documents, prepared by the Department of Homeland Security for a briefing at the White House.

Agents working outside the United States provide intelligence to local law enforcement on smugglers to target for arrests, according to the document.

More than 1,300 DHS staff are focused on targeting smugglers, and the agency has spent more than $50 million on the effort since April, a DHS spokesperson said.

The number of arrests of smugglers in Central and Latin American countries increased in June, and the number of undocumented migrants crossing the US-Mexico border began to decline from May’s peak of more than 7,700 arrests daily.

By the end of June, the numbers had dropped by 14% and remained relatively stable. During the first two weeks of July, the average number of undocumented migrants stopped each day at the southern land border was 6,800, according to preliminary figures shared internally at CBP and obtained by NBC News.

Seasonal trends are also responsible for the decline, as in most years fewer migrants make the journey during the hot summer months. But the monthly numbers actually increased over the summers of 2018, 2020 and 2021. And although the first few months of 2022 saw record levels of border traffic, July crossings are poised to fall below those of the same month last year.

Smugglers, also known as coyotes, are often linked to drug cartels and charge migrants thousands of dollars to be transported to the United States on dangerous journeys in which some are kidnapped, assaulted or left for dead . Smuggling networks are so widespread throughout the region that it is extremely rare for an undocumented migrant to walk across the US southern border without the assistance of a smuggler.

In briefing materials, DHS estimated that for every smuggler arrested, 24 migrants were either stopped or slowed to cross the border. The DHS has credited smuggler arrests with stopping up to 1,329 migrants a day.

The Biden administration has boasted of its increased partnership and coordination with governments and law enforcement in Mexico, as well as Central and South America. But the extent of the role US immigration officials play in apprehending smugglers outside the United States has remained largely secret.

Briefing documents reveal that in one week at the end of June, CBP officers were responsible for the arrest of 166 smugglers and ICE Homeland Security Investigations officers were responsible for 74 arrests in outside the United States. Officers also helped uncover hideouts and trailers carrying migrants in Central America. .

Sergio Gonzales, executive director of The Immigration Hub, which advocates for progressive immigration policies, said American voters broadly support arrests of smugglers, but he warned the Biden administration must do more to open up safe pathways. and legal to asylum seekers. .

“They’re really bad actors who prey on people in really desperate, difficult situations,” Gonzales said of the smugglers. “But you can’t just cut lanes for people to seek safety.”

Gonzales also said the details of how ICE and CBP work in the region are important because of “the problematic history of U.S. law enforcement in Latin America that has caused major problems in the region”.

The level of involvement of U.S. immigration officials with law enforcement officers physically making the arrests is unclear, but briefing documents suggest that U.S. officers keep track of the exact arrests they make. help to facilitate.

“Strengthening our security partnerships throughout the hemisphere is a priority for DHS as we ramp up our law enforcement operations against smugglers and traffickers who prey on vulnerable people,” the secretary said. from DHS, Alejandro Mayorkas. “Fluctuations are normal, but we will continue to strengthen our border security, support our partners, and vigorously combat transnational crime and human trafficking.

In a statement, a White House official said, “President Biden is taking historic steps to disrupt criminal smuggling rings that profit from migrants, and he has brought together 20 world leaders for the first time to do so with him. In the past two weeks alone, these efforts have resulted in the arrest of 706 smugglers and helped prevent up to 1,900 migrants a day from falling prey to dangerous smugglers.

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