U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and law enforcement authorities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico arrested 36 alleged human smugglers August 28th during a large-scale multinational operation.
“Operation Lucero” targeted transnational criminal organizations suspected of illegally smuggling hundreds of individuals each week – including children and families – throughout Central America and Mexico into the United States. The operation resulted in 17 arrests in El Salvador, seven in Guatemala and 12 in Mexico.
In addition to the arrests, 39 undocumented migrants were rescued, including 10 unaccompanied minors, 14 accompanied minors and 15 adults. Law enforcement authorities seized 22 properties – 20 in Guatemala and two in Mexico – valued in excess of $2 million in U.S. currency.
Four bank accounts containing the equivalent of $142,000, and bulk cash valued at $46,000 was seized, as well as 22 vehicles, six weapons, three smuggling boats, 11 boat engines, ammunition, bank cards, communication devices and an abundance of documents corroborating human smuggling.
The investigation leading to the arrests began in June 2014. Subsequent simultaneous investigations conducted by the Homeland Security Investigations attaché offices in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, in close coordination with the Attorneys General Office of Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala led to the arrests. El Salvador and Guatemala’s Civil National Police, and Mexico’s Federal Police, National Institute of Migration, Naval Secretariat and Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime assisted this effort.
Those arrested face various charges in their home countries for multiple violations including money laundering and human smuggling. 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. The organizations were allegedly smuggling hundreds of individuals through South Texas each week, using land routes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as maritime routes from Guatemala to Mexico.
“This operation was the direct result of the partnerships we’ve built and we will continue working to reinforce and grow these partnerships,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “We are sending a clear message to human smugglers that crossing borders will not protect them from the long arm of justice.”