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DHS to begin new counter-human smuggling operation to curb wave of migration at southern border

‘Operation Sentinel,’ the new multi-agency mission, will target transnational human smuggling organizations, according to DHS officials

Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington.
Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington.
Associated Press

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it was spearheading a new counter-human smuggling effort that will target “transnational criminal organizations” who, DHS said, profit from exploiting migrants.

The operation is part of the Biden administration’s response “to a record number of migrants arriving at the nation’s southern border,” according to Politico.

DHS said the multiagency mission — named “Operation Sentinel” — will go after international smugglers’ capacity to conduct cross-border trafficking operations.

  • “Transnational criminal organizations put profit over human life, with devastating consequences,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement Tuesday.
  • “With the help of our federal and foreign partners, we aim to cut off access to that profit by denying these criminals the ability to engage in travel, trade and finance in the United States. We intend to disrupt every facet of the logistical network that these organizations use to succeed,” Mayorkas added.

How will the operations work?

Operation Sentinel will identify individuals and resources used to smuggle people across borders and “employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them,” according to a DHS statement. The operation will use tactics such as, the “revocation of travel documents,” “suspension and debarment of trade entities” and freezing “bank accounts and other financial assets” associated with transcontinental smuggling organizations.

  • “Smuggling plays a significant role in regional migration, with criminal groups promoting real or perceived benefits to vulnerable populations in Mexico, Central America and beyond seeking entry into the United States, according to The Hill.
  • Citing a 2019 Rand Corporation study, “revenue from human smuggling originating in the Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — were as high as $2.3 billion in 2017,” The Hill reported.

Multiagency and and multicountry effort

Troy Miller — a senior U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official who is currently leading the agency — said transcontinental smuggling organizations “are complicit in sexual assault, human trafficking and abandonment of young children, which we’ve routinely encountered,” Politico reported.

  • “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,” said Miller in Tuesday’s statement.
  • CBP is collaborating with the FBI, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Department and other agencies in the operation, according to the DHS statement.

Biden administration officials said Tuesday that the “effort will be supported by other governments in the region to disrupt these networks and discourage smugglers,” according to Politico.

  • On Monday, the White House said it would also “help train a Guatemalan task force charged with securing its border and stemming illegal migration,” Politico reported.