Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday announced new initiatives being undertaken by the Department of Justice in an effort to combat human trafficking and smuggling, as well as fighting corruption, in Central America.
“Transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks pose a serious criminal threat,” AG Garland wrote in a statement. “These networks profit from the exploitation of migrants and routinely expose them to violence, injury, and death. The joint efforts we are announcing today will combine investigative, prosecutorial, and capacity-building efforts of both the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”
Chief among the efforts is the creation of Joint Task Force Alpha, a partnership between DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security “to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.”
“Our focus will remain on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime,” Garland continued. “Together, we will combat these threats where they originate and operate.”
The task force will be comprised of federal prosecutors from U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border and law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol, as well as the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We will take action to identify smugglers and their associates to ensure that we enhance the security of the U.S. border, and help save the lives of vulnerable people these organizations routinely prey upon,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a statement.
Joint Task Force Alpha will also help the DOJ’s efforts to fight corruption, according to the statement.
“The Justice Department will increase its focus on investigations, prosecutions, and asset recoveries relating to corruption in Northern Triangle countries through its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement program, counternarcotics prosecutions, and Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative,” the statement reads. "In addition, adopting a Task Force approach, the department’s OPDAT and ICITAP personnel – including new Northern Triangle anti-corruption legal advisors – will work with Northern Triangle prosecutors and investigators to build corruption cases in those countries themselves, as well as to develop leads that can be pursued by the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.”
The announcement comes as Vice President Kamala Harris, the Biden Administration’s point person to address the increase in migration from Central American countries, is visiting Guatemala and Mexico.
In her opening remarks at the start of a meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, she emphasized the need for both leaders to act to improve the situation on the ground for Guatemalans, whom she said don’t want to leave their homeland but are forced to by poor living conditions.
“Hope does not exist by itself, it must be coupled with relationships and trust,” Vice President Harris said. “It must be coupled with tangible outcomes in terms of what we do as leaders to convince people that there is a reason to be hopeful about their future and the future of their children.”
Garland also announced Monday that the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) and the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), in coordination with the State Department, will enhance assistance provided to counterparts in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries “to support their efforts to prosecute smuggling and trafficking networks in their own courts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.