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Transnational Crime

U.S. and Multinational Coalition
Disrupts Migrant Smuggling Operations

By Joseph R. Greene
Assistant Commissioner for Investigations
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is the leading U.S. agency
in the enforcement of immigration laws and border security. The global traffick in human beings has led the INS into far-reaching multinational relationships to stop migrant smuggling.


Threats from terrorists, alien smugglers, and organized criminals are serious international problems affecting democratic societies everywhere. To counter these threats, INS works beyond immediate national borders to ensure the security of the United States and to curtail the activities of unscrupulous criminal organizations that engage in trafficking human beings.

The volume and sophistication of alien smuggling organizations have increased dramatically in recent years, violating U.S. laws to insure orderly immigration, and threatening national security. The global economy and instability of governments worldwide contribute to an ever-increasing flow of people seeking entry into the United States.

Alien smuggling organizations operate internationally with near impunity. Public corruption in source and transit countries contributes to a smuggling organization's ability to move large groups of aliens destined for the United States.

Smuggling organizations have entered this 21st century slavery for the money. The emergence of international smuggling organizations has brought a dramatic rise in smuggling fees, some as high as $70,000 per person. These organizations have also developed highly innovative methods and new smuggling routes. Some organizations have gone so far as to purchase ocean-going vessels with the express purpose of transporting human beings. New routes of travel may include transit through multiple countries, utilizing various conveyances, and fraudulent or counterfeit documents.

Since 1997, the U.S. INS has countered the trafficking in human beings with the National Anti-Smuggling Strategy, part of the agency's Interior Enforcement Strategy. The strategy involves overseas districts and domestic district and sector offices engaging in a service-wide, integrated enforcement effort to identify, dismantle, or disrupt alien smuggling organizations. INS special agents focus enforcement efforts on targeting complex, sophisticated alien smuggling organizations that are international in scope. These organizations, based in source countries, transit countries, or in the United States, may use multiple organizations, or smuggling "subcontractors" to further insulate them from identification and prosecution by law enforcement agencies.

INS officers deployed in source and transit countries work closely with host government authorities to interdict smuggled migrants, both documented and undocumented, before they reach U.S. shores. They accomplish this through joint initiatives with foreign law enforcement officials, information-gathering targeting smugglers and their organizations, and training host government authorities and air carriers in the detection of fraudulent documents.

INS has expanded its ability to address migrant smuggling through its Global Reach initiative, which called for the deployment of greater enforcement assets overseas. Currently there are 40 offices worldwide with permanent INS staff:

  • Training foreign law enforcement and airline officials in identifying fraudulent documents;

  • Improving liaison and cooperation with host country officials to deter migrant smuggling;

  • Developing information for the successful prosecution of alien smugglers in the United States and in host countries; and

  • Strengthening the cooperation of host country migration and law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute smugglers.

Since 1997 when Operation Global Reach was initiated, INS has trained more than 45,000 host country officials and airline personnel in fraudulent document detection and intercepted more than 74,000 fraudulently documented aliens attempting to transit these countries to the United States.

The multinational cooperation of Global Reach met significant success in June 2001 when INS completed two multinational smuggling investigations, resulting in thousands of arrests. The largest multinational anti-smuggling operation ever conducted in the Western Hemisphere brought 75 smugglers and illegal document vendors into custody. The United States, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, and Peru cooperated in Operation Crossroads International. Law enforcement officers in these countries interdicted 7,898 individuals, with 5,500 being repatriated after immigration processing by these transit countries.

The simultaneous, coordinated efforts between the United States and other countries is key to the INS overseas deterrence strategy, and sends a clear message to those who would traffick in human beings --- the United States is committed with its partners to pursuing smugglers wherever they operate.

Beyond the Western Hemisphere, Asian and Western European nations are also working with the INS to shut down smuggling operations. Recent success came in Operation Firm Grip, the most geographically diverse of its kind to date, spanning six nations on two continents.

Conducted mainly through passenger screening of more than 800 flights at major international airports, Operation Firm Grip resulted in the interception of 45 individuals involved in smuggling aliens to the United States or other Western countries. Overall, 415 persons were intercepted on various offenses related to fraudulent documents.

Operation Firm Grip was a coordinated effort by INS working with host country law enforcement organizations and airline security officers to target global alien smugglers in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Mumbai and New Delhi, India; Bangkok, Thailand; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Singapore.

During 2000, INS worked with six Latin American nations in an anti-smuggling effort resulting in the arrest of 38 alien traffickers, including Jose Leon Castillo, one of the most wanted smugglers in Latin America. Approximately 3,500 migrants destined to the United States were interdicted during Operation Forerunner.

Castillo was considered one of the most notorious alien smugglers operating on the continent at that time, believed to be responsible for smuggling thousands of aliens into the United States over a five-year period. His arrest in Operation Forerunner came after a 14-month INS investigation.

Apprehending the unscrupulous criminals who traffick in human cargo, and closing down their operations has certainly been an important focus of the INS' multinational campaign against smuggling, but protecting the victims of this criminal activity is also an important priority. These operations have also seen the multinational partners engaged in a coordinated effort to protect migrants who are victims of criminal smuggling organizations.

The Border Safety Initiative (BSI) involves the United States and Mexico in a binational strategy to reduce the injuries and fatalities of migrants attempting to cross the U.S. southern border. BSI reports some harrowing stories of people who have entrusted their safety and futures with smugglers and then been abandoned and left to die in the hostile terrain of the border region.

BSI saved close to 2,500 migrants in 2000, and the rescues continue in the current year. In May, 2001, BSI rescued 12 people in the hostile and remote Yuma desert of Arizona after they had been led there and left by their smuggler. In March 2001, border agents rescued a woman from drowning in the Rio Grande River separating the U.S. and Mexico after her smugglers fled the scene leaving her stranded in the water.

Tragically, however, many more migrants have not been rescued. They were the victims of alien smugglers who sought profit from their misery. In 2000, the deaths of 58 Chinese migrants in Britain and the discovery of three dead migrants in a cargo container in the United States highlighted the fact that profits are more precious than people for those involved in the trade. A critical element in the international effort to curtail this traffick is to educate would-be migrants about the dangers of entrusting their lives and futures to these ruthless criminals.


Mr. Greene is also currently serving as the
Acting Deputy Associate Commissioner for Enforcement.