WASHINGTON – On April 4 and 5, 2022, in Mexico City, Mexico, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico hosted a collaborative Regional Smuggling Forum and Roundtable event to promote the Bicentennial Agreement. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) led the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL)-funded workshop to bring together human smuggling investigators and prosecutors from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. Participants shared best practices, discussed recent trends and obstacles, and coordinated strategies during roundtable discussions. This forum was designed to increase successful collaborations between regional partners in combating transnational human smuggling organizations.
The region is currently experiencing historic irregular migration flows, which are in part the result of the exploitation of migrants by transnational criminal organizations. The criminal organizations and the smugglers they employ utilize increasingly dangerous means to avoid detection and apprehension placing exploited migrants at significant risk. These networks begin their operation in Central American countries, operate through Mexico and up into the United States. Many of these same migrants find themselves victims of sex trafficking, forced labor, and other exploitative schemes during or shortly following their journeys.
“This innovative forum in Mexico City helps ensure that the United States and our international partners are positioned to develop joint strategies and best practices to counter transnational human smuggling organizations,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The partnership between the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State is crucial to disrupting, dismantling, and prosecuting trafficking networks that exploit migrants, enrich organized crime, and pose a threat to national security.”
Reducing current migration flows is amongst the highest priorities for the Biden administration.
“This two-day regional event in Mexico City helps ensure that the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are able to partner together to develop joint strategies and best practices to counter these dangerous transnational human smuggling organizations,” said U.S. Ambassador in Mexico, Ken Salazar. “We are stronger when we work together.”
This collaborative event brought together U.S. federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Mexico, Guatemala and Washington D.C.; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mexico and Washington D.C.; and resident legal advisors of the U.S. Department of Justice’s OPDAT Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The forum
also included partners from Mexico Attorney General’s Office’s “Fiscalía General de la República” (FGR) Mexico’s Unidad de Investigación de Delitos para Migrantes (IUIDPM) and FEMDO’s Unidad Especializada en Investigación de Tráfico de Menores, Personas y Órganos (UEITMPO), as well as prosecutors specializing in human smuggling cases from El Salvador and Honduras, and investigators from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate on a high impact crime that affects so many citizens of our countries,” said Alfredo Higuera Bernal, Director of the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Organized Crime (SEIDO) in Mexico. “It is clear that we have to continue working together to achieve more successes like the ones we have already reached.”
Prosecutors and law enforcement agents from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), a DOJ-U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) anti-human smuggling international joint task force, attended and participated. JTFA, established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021, was created to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. JTFA partners with OPDAT to fulfill their joint mandate to strengthen the capacity of Central American and Mexican counterparts to prosecute human smuggling networks in their own courts.
This strategy session event served as an opportunity to increase case cooperation to collaboratively work cases and ultimately dismantle human smuggling networks. This event strengthened communication amongst U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to fulfill the goals of the Bicentennial Agreement.