A multinational smuggling bust has resulted in the arrest of 36 alleged human smugglers in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday.
“Operation Lucero,” according to authorities, targeted large scale smuggling organizations that transported hundreds of illegal immigrants weekly through Central America and Mexico into the U.S.
The Friday law enforcement operation resulted in 17 arrests in El Salvador, seven in Guatemala and 12 in Mexico. Additionally officials discovered 39 illegal immigrants — including 10 unaccompanied minors — and seized 20 properties in Guatemala and 2 in Mexico worth an estimated $2 million combined.
Authorities also seized a slew of items associated with smuggling including 22 vehicles, six weapons, three “smuggling boats,” 11 boat engines, ammunition, bank cards, communications devices, documents, as well as approximately $200,000 in approximate in bulk cash and bank accounts.
“This operation was the direct result of the partnerships we’ve built and we will continue working to reinforce and grow these partnerships,” ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said in a statement. “We are sending a clear message to human smugglers that crossing borders will not protect them from the long arm of justice.”
According to ICE the effort began with a June 2014 tip to the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line. Working with international partners and agencies, officials conducted investigations which ultimately resulted in Friday’s arrest. HSI attaché offices in the three countries, according to ICE, worked with with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, the El Salvadoran Attorney General’s Office and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office. Law enforcement in each country, ICE noted, were also important players in the round up.
The apprehended will face charges in their home countries for their various crimes.
“Through the use of wire taps, surveillance, search warrants and information-sharing, this multinational investigation uncovered several transnational criminal organizations allegedly moving large numbers of individuals from various countries, including unaccompanied minors and family units, throughout Central America and to the United States,” ICE noted in its release, it added that investigations into the smuggling rings continue.
The smugglers moved hundreds of illegal immigrants each week into South Texas, via routes through El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. The smugglers also used boats to travel routes from Guatemala to Mexico, according to ICE.