ICE Official: Mexican Drug Cartels Now ‘Dictating’ Flow of Human Smuggling into U.S.

May 22, 2012 - 3:45 PM

Arizona border fence

An Arizona stretch of the fence along the southwest border. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- “Gatekeepers” linked to Mexican drug cartels “are dictating when and where” alien smugglers are allowed to cross the southwest border into the U.S. territory, a federal immigration enforcement agent told House lawmakers at a hearing Monday held in Arizona.

The official, Matthew Allen of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), added that when human smugglers wishing to cross into the U.S. disregard “warnings” from drug cartels, they can be targets of violence including murder.

Allen, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations for ICE in Phoenix, provided both verbal and written testimony during a field hearing in Arizona hosted by the House Homeland Security Committee’ subcommittee on border and maritime security.

“Arizona is bordered by the State of Sonora to our south and the Sinaloa Cartel is the dominant criminal element in the State of Sonora. The border areas in Mexico that adjoin the United States are divided by the Sinaloa Cartel into ‘Plazas’ that are supervised by ‘Plaza Bosses’ or ‘Gatekeepers,” Allen told lawmakers.

“These plaza bosses and gatekeepers are responsible for overseeing and coordinating smuggling activities in a given geographic area and collecting taxes and fees from anyone wishing to smuggle contraband, including human smuggling organizations,” he added.

In his written testimony, Allen said that drug cartels do dictate the flow of human smuggling from Mexico into the U.S. – but that those who smuggle aliens into the U.S. are distinct from the cartels themselves.

“We are often asked whether human smuggling organizations are part of the ‘cartels.’ Based on HSI investigations and intelligence, it is our opinion that while alien smugglers pay taxes and fees to the cartels to smuggle in a specific geographic area, they are generally run as distinct criminal enterprises in both Mexico and the United States,” stated Allen.

“We believe that the plaza bosses and gatekeepers play a coordinating role with alien smugglers, dictating when and where they will be allowed to cross the border,” Allen testified.

Allen said this coordination “ensures that alien smugglers and their human cargo do not bring unwanted law enforcement attention” to their smuggling efforts.

He added: “Our investigations have shown that when alien smugglers do not heed warnings from drug smuggling organizations about where and when they smuggle, they can be targeted for physical violence, including murder.”

ICE is a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The field hearing was titled, “Stopping the Flow of Illicit Drugs in Arizona by Leveraging State, Local and Federal Information Sharing.”

In his written testimony, Allen also said that in Arizona ICE is focusing its efforts on targeting human smuggling through its Illicit Pathways Attack Strategy (IPAS).

“We focused our first IPAS on high-risk human smuggling in the Western Hemisphere to identify and target human smuggling organizations and their pathways across the globe,” he stated.

Smuggling in illegal aliens is frequently tied to sex trafficking and forced labor, the ICE official said.

“We initially targeted human smuggling as this is often a precursor crime that can lead to other illegal activities, including human trafficking. People may have illegally entered the United States only to find themselves in exploitative circumstances and vulnerable to being used by force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor,” he added.

Allen noted that “transnational gangs” have their hands in smuggling humans into the U.S.

“Transnational gangs often conspire with other dangerous criminal organizations, which allow them to mature from small autonomous criminal groups into larger, international criminal enterprises engaged in human smuggling and trafficking, narcotics smuggling and distribution, money laundering, weapons smuggling and arms trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and export violations,” stated Allen in his written testimony.

ICE is responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws within the U.S. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) component of DHS is charged with protecting the nation’s borders. Arizona is the busiest area for illicit cross-border activity in the country.

In Fiscal Year 2011, approximately 40 percent of all illegal alien apprehensions by CBP along the southwest border (129,118 of 327,577) took place in Arizona -- more than in any other state. Arizona shares about 378 miles of the estimated 2,000 mile-long southwest border with Mexico. (Fiscal Year 2011 was from Oct. 1, 2010 thru Sept. 30, 2011.)

As of the end of Fiscal Year 2010, Border Patrol, an arm of CBP, claimed that it had operational control of 303 of the 378 border miles in Arizona.

Overall, Border Patrol claimed that it had attained operational control of about 45 percent -- 873 miles -- of the 1,954 mile U.S.-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines a border mile under operational control, as “when the appropriate mix of personnel, equipment, technology and tactical infrastructure has been deployed to reasonably ensure that when an attempted illegal entry is detected, the Border Patrol has the ability to identify, classify and respond to bring the attempted illegal entry to a satisfactory law enforcement resolution.”

No data on miles under operation control is available beyond Fiscal Year 2010 because DHS no longer uses this long-standing measure of border security.