Guatemalan and Department of Homeland Security officials busted a multimillion-dollar human smuggling operation Wednesday, marking a huge win in the fight against illegal immigration.
Nine leaders of a major human smuggling ring were captured on Wednesday, thanks to a joint effort by Guatemalan authorities and DHS agents.
The arrests dealt a devastating blow to an organization that reportedly transported around 800 migrants a year into the U.S. and boasted $10 million in assets.
The cartel dubbed the “Merida organization” after its ringleader, Lidia Fausta Merida-Lopez charged around $12,000 per adult and $3,500 per child, depending on where exactly migrants wanted to go and what mode of transportation they chose to take.
Merida-Lopez was among those apprehended in the wide-sweeping bust.
“They’ve moved thousands of people,” an official said about the group, according to The Washington Times. “They’re diverse. They’re connected and linked to narcotics smuggling organizations.
“They’re truly a transnational criminal organization.”
JUST IN: DHS, Guatemala bust major illegal immigrant smuggling cartel https://t.co/tOTaKmMFdK pic.twitter.com/lOeThc8R4Z
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) May 30, 2019
News of the major bust comes after Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan signed a Memorandum of Cooperation alongside Guatemalan officials Tuesday.
The cooperation deal calls on the two governments to work together to combat illegal immigration and drug and human smuggling.
“I am proud to sign this agreement with Minister Enrique Antonio Degenhart,” the DHS secretary said at the signing. “Through our continued collaboration and partnership, the U.S. and Guatemala are formalizing a number of initiatives to improve the lives and security of our respective citizens by combating human trafficking and the smuggling of illegal goods, helping to limit ‘push’ factors that encourage dangerous irregular migration to the U.S., perpetuating the ongoing crisis at our border.”
I was pleased to sign an agreement with the Govt of Guatemala to expand our mutual security through targeting human trafficking, combatting transnational criminal orgs, and stemming the flow of irregular migration. https://t.co/bpCdSXHwbB pic.twitter.com/mRUoZtXNH3
— Acting Sec. Kevin McAleenan (@DHSMcAleenan) May 28, 2019
McAleenan is on a four-day trip in Central America, meeting with local government leaders and looking for solutions to the unprecedented surge of illegal migrants coming from the Northern Triangle region.
DHS believes the influx of U.S.-bound immigrants can be dramatically reduced if Guatemala, which straddles a strategic location in Central America, can better police its borders and laws.
“You’ve got to come through Guatemala, so if we can create a border security situation that’s more robust on the Guatemalan border with Honduras, the Guatemalan border with El Salvador … that’s going to disrupt this cycle,” McAleenan said.
Today’s Northern Triangle Ministerial meeting in Guatemala underscores our shared commitment and continued engagement to increasing security in the region. pic.twitter.com/Cmqf0c2ICy
— Acting Sec. Kevin McAleenan (@DHSMcAleenan) May 29, 2019
Merida-Lopez’s bust appears to be a promising sign that expanded U.S.-Guatemala cooperation could yield results in the fight against illegal immigration.
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