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First on CNN: Biden administration launches ‘unprecedented’ operation to disrupt human smuggling as caravan moves north


By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

The Biden administration has launched an “unprecedented” operation to disrupt human smuggling networks amid an ongoing influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas exclusively told CNN.

The operation — which includes deploying hundreds of personnel throughout Latin America and a multi-million-dollar investment — comes as the US continues to grapple with a large flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border, including this week as a caravan of up to 5,000 migrants journeys north from southern Mexico.

“We have brought an all-of-government effort to attack the smuggling organizations. It’s not just Homeland Security Investigations, it’s not just US Customs and Border Protection. But we’re working very carefully with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a number of agencies within the Department of Justice, and, of course, our partners in Mexico,” Mayorkas told CNN.

“I think it’s scale and scope; it’s tactics and strategy. It’s really unprecedented,” he added.

Mayorkas is attending the Ninth Summit of the Americas, which is being hosted by the United States in Los Angeles. The gathering of nearly two dozen heads of states from the Western Hemisphere has focused on stabilizing the region and investing in it to, in part, stem the flow migration — an issue that has dogged US presidents, including Joe Biden, for years.

The mass migration within the hemisphere came into sharp focus again this week, as thousands of migrants joined a caravan heading to the US southern border. Asked about how the latest operation applies to that caravan, Mayorkas stressed the administration is “tackling the smuggling organizations that exploit these people.”

The “Sting Operation,” led by the Department of Homeland Security, has so far yielded around 20,000 “disruption actions” that include arrests and prosecutions, seizures of property and criminal investigations, according to the department. The US has also surged over 1,300 personnel throughout the Western Hemisphere and invested over $50 million.

In the last eight weeks, nearly 2,000 smugglers have been arrested, marking a 600% increase in law enforcement actions taken against such actors compared to efforts in previous years, DHS said.

The latest operation builds upon previous initiatives by the Biden administration to go after smugglers who migrants often depend on as they make their way to the US-Mexico border. Last spring, DHS also announced an effort to crack down on criminal smuggling organizations, alongside federal partners.

DHS also set up a new intelligence gathering and law enforcement unit to monitor the movement of migrants and helped stand up a task force, led by the Justice Department, to investigate and prosecute human smuggling and trafficking networks.

Migration looms over Summit of the Americas

At the US southern border, a new trend has been taking shape that’s posed a challenge to the Biden administration: About 40% of border crossers are now from countries outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

More than 6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nicaraguans have also increasingly been migrating, as well as Haitians who had moved to the region years ago.

Over the course of Summit of the Americas, administration officials have acknowledged the mass migration in the Western Hemisphere, stressing the need for all countries to help alleviate the flow and create better conditions in country.

The gathering has served as a platform for the Biden administration, leaders of countries in the region, and the public and private sector to come to agreements about the path forward in stemming the flow of irregular migration.

Biden has aimed to demonstrate a level of cohesion across the two continents’ politics, but boycotts by leaders of several nations — including Mexico and three Central American countries — has put a damper on the summit.

The four leaders refused to attend because Biden declined to extend invitations to the three autocratic leaders, instead sending lower-level delegations.

Mayorkas dismissed concerns about key leaders skipping the summit, telling CNN: “All the countries are represented here. So, of course, the president of Mexico is not here but I had the good fortune of seeing the foreign minister of Mexico, Secretary Ebrard, here with whom I have worked very closely throughout my trips to Mexico as well as our continuing dialogue. So no, my confidence is unblemished.”

On Friday, countries in attendance of the Summit of the Americas are expected to sign a migration declaration that aims to outline how the region should share responsibility for taking in migrants.

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