WASHINGTON (KYTX) — In a news conference Tuesday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, joined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Deputy Chief Ronald Vitiello and U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole, announced the progress of ongoing enforcement efforts by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Department of Justice to target human smuggling networks in the Rio Grande Valley.
Operation Coyote is a 90-day surge operation being conducted by ICE and HSI to target human smuggling operations in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Operation Coyote began June 23 and is ongoing
As of July 21, Operation Coyote has revealed:
- 192 smugglers and their associates have been arrested on criminal charges
- 501 undocumented aliens taken into custody
- Four firearms and 28 vehicles seized
- More than $625,000 in illicit profits seized from 288 bank accounts held by human and drug smuggling organizations
- 60 special agents and support personnel deployed to the Rio Grande Valley
Dedicated additional intelligence and programmatic support to provide real-time tactical and operational support
Examples of enforcement actions taken in this ongoing operation include:
- July 8, HSI special agents in McAllen, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol agents, arrested three suspected smugglers and encountered 91 undocumented aliens, including 12 unaccompanied children. The individuals were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, China, Nicaragua and Mexico.
- July 9, HSI special agents in McAllen, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol, rescued a Honduran woman who was being threatened and held against her will by her smugglers. Her family member in Alexandria, Virginia, was being extorted for $2,000 in exchange for her release. Two Mexican nationals were arrested in McAllen on alien smuggling charges. HSI Washington, D.C., and the Alexandria Police Department are assisting with the investigation.
- July 17, HSI special agents in McAllen, assisted by U.S. Border Patrol and the Palmview Police Department identified an alien stash house in Palmview with 46 undocumented aliens of various Central American nationalities and two suspected alien smugglers. The agents discovered the smugglers were a part of an alien and drug smuggling operation connected to the smuggling of over 460 undocumented aliens, more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana and 50 pounds of cocaine.
- July 17, HSI Del Rio special agents arrested a Honduran national in San Antonio for alien smuggling. The individual is a previously convicted cocaine smuggler and the leader of an alien smuggling organization known for smuggling more than 400 undocumented aliens into the United States since January 2013. A firearm in his possession was also seized. The Bexar County Police Department assisted with the arrest.
In conjunction with Operation Coyote, HSI is also pursuing money laundering activity associated with the transnational criminal activities of human and drug smuggling operations, particularly the exploitation of interstate funnel accounts.
Interstate funnel accounts are bank accounts where individuals can make anonymous cash deposits in one state and an account holder in another state can immediately withdraw the money.
In an effort to expand their money laundering operations, transnational criminal organizations are employing the use of interstate funnel accounts to move their illicit proceeds swiftly and efficiently from one geographic location to another.
In the instance of human smuggling, cash deposits are made anonymously throughout the country to pay off smuggling debts and then immediately withdrawn by the human smugglers.This money laundering technique provides an efficient method and one that is harder for law enforcement to detect: to move illicit proceeds rapidly through financial institutions nationwide. To combat this, HSI is focused on identifying, targeting and dismantling criminal organizations using interstate funnel accounts in order to disrupt the larger networks involved in human smuggling.
Other recent HSI operations involving human smuggling along the southwest border:
In May, HSI conducted Operation Southern Crossing, a month-long initiative along the U.S. southwest border in which 163 alien smugglers and other violators were arrested. HSI special agents also obtained 60 indictments and 45 convictions, seized 29 vehicles, nine firearms and more than $35,000 in illicit proceeds.