The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new effort to sanction transnational organizations that help smuggle migrants across the southern border, as it scrambles to solve a migrant crisis that has overwhelmed authorities there.
“Operation Sentinel” will target transnational criminal organizations that peddle in smuggling migrants to the border and into the United States. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described the effort as a “broad approach and a strong one.”
“We aim to cut off access to that profit by denying these criminal organizations the ability to engage in travel, trade and finance within the U.S,” he said Tuesday on a call with reporters. “We intend to disrupt every facet of the logistical network that these organizations use to succeed.”
The effort — which will involve Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the State Department, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) — will work to identify smugglers and associations and take actions including the revocation of travel documents, suspension and disbarment of trade entities, and the freezing of financial and banking assets.
The new effort comes as the Biden administration has been working to combat a dramatic and historic spike in migration to the southern border. More than 172,000 migrants were encountered in March, including a record number of unaccompanied children.
The Biden administration has blamed the Trump administration’s dismantling of legal asylum pathways and has also focused on “root causes” in Central America such as poverty and climate. Critics have pointed to the new administration’s border policies, including not applying Title 42 public health protections — which allow migrants to be quickly expelled — to unaccompanied children and some migrant families.
But both sides of the political aisle, and officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations, are generally able to agree on the pervasive influence of smuggling organizations that charge extortionate amounts of money to smuggle migrants into the country — and often abuse or abandon those who look to get into the U.S.
Shocking images have emerged in recent months of children being abandoned at the border by smugglers. Meanwhile, officials said that they encounter migrants who abandon mothers and children who can’t keep up, while taking vast amounts of money from migrants looking to travel to the U.S.
CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said that 250 migrants died on their way north in fiscal year 2020 alone, while CBP has rescued more than 4,000 migrants — many of whom have been abandoned by smugglers.
His message to the smugglers was stark: “We know who you are and we are coming for you.”