Special agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations arrested more than 160 human smugglers along the U.S. southwest border in an initiative called “Operation Southern Crossing” last month.
HSI’s operation lasted the entire month in the southwestern cities of Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Phoenix and San Diego — the law enforcement officials put special focus on actions in southern Texas, due to the high volume of illegal immigration and human smuggling taking place in the Rio Grande Valley, ICE revealed late last week.
During the operation, from May 1-31, HSI made 163 criminal arrests, seized 29 vehicles, nine firearms, and more than $35,000 in “illicit proceeds.” Further, in that timeframe, authorities were able to obtain 60 indictments and 45 convictions.
ICE’s announcement about the arrests of human smugglers comes as tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, many of who are unaccompanied minors from Central America, stream across the border in what President Obama has described as an “urgent humanitarian situation.”
“The impressive statistics from this initiative demonstrate HSI’s call to action to meet the challenge of combating the increase of human smuggling in the Rio Grande Valley area,” ICE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski said in a statement. “Unfortunately, desperate people continue to place their lives in the hands of these smugglers who have no regard for human life.”
While the administration has pointed to violence and poverty in migrants’ home countries as the push factor driving illegal minors and family units northward, reports on the ground indicate many believe they will get a free pass once they get to America, something some lawmakers and commentator have said is likely due to rumors about President’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
ICE announcement notes that the “Southern Crossing” operation was largely focused on taking on the most dangerous smuggling organizations. ICE did not say whether the smuggling organizations were involved in moving children across the border.
Last fiscal year, according to ICE, HSI made 2,718 arrests human smuggling-related arrests, obtained 1,854 indictments, 1,802 convictions, and $5,219,924 in asset seizures from 1,700 human smuggling investigations.