Operation Sentinel targets migrant smugglers by freezing assets and travel visas

Border Report

'We will have a broad approach and strong one. It will include every authority in our arsenal,' DHS Secretary Mayorkas says

A smuggler takes migrants, mostly from Central American countries, on a small inflatable raft towards U.S. soil in Roma, Texas Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Roma, a town of 10,000 people with historic buildings and boarded-up storefronts in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, is the latest epicenter of illegal crossings, where growing numbers of families and children are entering the United States to seek asylum. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a wide-sweeping, multi-agency operation to cut off supplies, resources and travel abilities of transnational criminal organizations that smuggle thousands of migrants daily across the U.S. Southwest border, especially into rural areas of South Texas.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Operation Sentinel is a collaboration between DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice — including the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency — and the U.S. State Department to target transnational criminal organizations (TCO) and cartels that are specializing in human trafficking, and that are fueling this recent surge of influx of migrants over the border from Mexico.

“These criminal organizations put profit over human life. They routinely prey on migrants, taking vast sums of money from them in exchange for vast promises to get them to the United States. We’ll use the full breadth of our authorities’ data analytic capability, capacity and domestic foreign partnerships,” Mayorkas said on a call with media.

“We will identify the smugglers and their associates and employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them. We will have a broad approach and strong one. It will include every authority in our arsenal,” he said.

Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is seen March 1, 2021, during a White House online briefing. He announce on April 27 a sweeping multi-agency operation targeting drug cartels that traffic migrants over the border. (Screenshot)

This includes: freezing their assets and bank accounts; revoking travel visas, and suspending their trade abilities within the United States, he said.

“The goal is to disrupt every facet of the logistical network of these criminal networks,” Mayorkas said.

CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said cartel operatives have no regard for the health or wellbeing of those they traffic, or of the border communities where migrants are left, often abandoned, destitute or sick during this ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

So far this fiscal year, CBP officials have rescued 4,766 migrants, which is close to the 5,232 rescued in all of fiscal 2020, Miller said. This includes lost migrant children who said were abandoned by smugglers when they couldn’t keep up in the desert of West Texas and New Mexico, and the thick brush of South Texas.

“Smuggling operations continue to lie and exploit vulnerable populations to promote their criminal enterprise – the health and safety of migrants does not influence their lucrative ambition,” Miller said.

This Guatemalan migrant is helped by a Border Patrol agent on March 26, 2021, after being lost for five days in the brush of Brooks County in South Texas. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

In fiscal 2020, U.S. Border Patrol agents located the remains of at least 250 migrants who died trying to cross illegally into the United States, Miller said. Most of these remains have been found in South Texas where the triple digit temperatures, combined with rattlesnakes and thick terrain can cause migrants to spend days trying to walk just a few miles.

Operation Sentinel will involve collaboration with other countries, such as Mexico, and the so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where most migrants are fleeing their homelands to head North.

“With the help of our federal and foreign partners, CBP aims to cut off access to TCO’s profits by denying these criminals the ability to engage in travel, trade and finance here in the United States,” Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said. “By employing the full breath of domestic and foreign authorities’ data, analytical capability and capacity Operation Sentinel will map TCO’s networks, target their members, their associates and assets and employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them.”

“With the help of our federal and foreign partners, CBP aims to cut off access to TCO’s profits by denying these criminals the ability to engage in travel, trade and finance here in the United States.”

Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson

Mayorkas said the operation should show net results in upcoming months.

It is widely known that criminal cartels control how and when and where migrants cross the Rio Grande, especially in South Texas. Colored wristbands are issued by smugglers to group and sort and categorize which rafts and where the migrants will be crossing. Purple wristbands mean they have already tried twice before and if they are not successful on their third try will not be allowed to cross again unless they pay more money.

Migrants are questioned by a Border Patrol agent on April 8, 2021, in La Joya, Texas, after entering the United States illegally. The woman on the left has a red wristband. Cartels give out different colored wristbands to group and sort migrants as they traffic them across the river from Mexico. Most are allowed three tries to cross. Purple bands mean they have no more tries left. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Migrants pay smugglers between $5,000 and $10,000 per person to cross and most who cross into South Texas are now carrying with them very young babies, which the Biden administration are allowing into the country as family units due to the Mexican government of Tamaulipas refusing to accept back tender-age migrant children under age seven.

Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children also are crossing, led by trafficking guides. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported on Monday that an additional 399 more children were placed in CBP custody on Sunday, not including Mexican children, who were seeking asylum in the United States. This brings the total number of children in HHS care to nearly 22,000.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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