CNN premiere: Biden administration launches ‘unprecedented’ operation to disrupt human trafficking as caravan moves north

Los Angeles

The Biden administration has launched an « unprecedented » operation to disrupt human trafficking networks amid a continued influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Homeland Security Secretary exclusively tells CNN , Alejandro Mayorkas.

The operation – which includes the deployment of hundreds of personnel across Latin America and a multi-million dollar investment – comes as the US continues to face a large flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border , including this week as a caravan of up to 5,000 migrants are traveling north from southern Mexico.

“We have deployed a whole-of-government effort to attack smuggling organizations. It’s not just Homeland Security investigations, it’s not just US Customs and Border Protection. But we are working very carefully with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a number of agencies within the Department of Justice, and of course our partners in Mexico,” Mayorkas told CNN.

“I think it’s scale and scope; it’s tactics and strategy. This is truly unprecedented,” he added.

Mayorkas attends the Ninth Summit of the Americas hosted by the United States in Los Angeles. The gathering of nearly two dozen Western Hemisphere heads of state focused on stabilizing the region and investing in it to, in part, stem migration flows – an issue of concern to American presidents, including Joe Biden, for years.

Mass migration within the hemisphere was again in the spotlight this week, as thousands of migrants joined a caravan heading for the US southern border. Asked how the latest operation applies to this caravan, Mayorkas pointed out that the administration « is tackling the smuggling organizations that exploit these people ».

« Operation Sting, » led by the Department of Homeland Security, has so far resulted in about 20,000 « disruptive actions » that include arrests and prosecutions, asset seizures and criminal investigations, according to the Department. The United States has also recruited more than 1,300 people from across the Western Hemisphere and invested more than $50 million.

In the past eight weeks, nearly 2,000 smugglers have been arrested, marking a 600% increase in law enforcement action taken against these actors compared to efforts in previous years, DHS said.

The latest operation builds on previous moves by the Biden administration to pursue smugglers that migrants often depend on as they make their way to the US-Mexico border. Last spring, DHS also announced an effort to crack down on contraband criminal organizations, alongside federal partners.

DHS also established a new intelligence-gathering and law enforcement unit to monitor the movement of migrants and helped establish a task force, led by the Department of Justice, to investigate and prosecute human smuggling and trafficking networks.

On the U.S. southern border, a new trend is emerging that challenges the Biden administration: About 40% of people crossing the border now come from countries other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador .

More than 6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants have fled the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nicaraguans are also increasingly migrating, as well as Haitians who settled in the area years ago.

During the Summit of the Americas, administration officials acknowledged the massive migration in the Western Hemisphere, stressing the need for all countries to help ease the flow and create better conditions at home.

The rally served as a platform for the Biden administration, leaders of countries in the region, and the public and private sectors to reach agreements on the way forward to stem the flow of irregular migration.

Biden has sought to demonstrate a level of cohesion in politics across the two continents, but boycotts by the leaders of several nations — including Mexico and three Central American countries — have put a damper on the summit.

The four leaders declined to attend because Biden refused to invite the three autocratic leaders, instead sending lower-level delegations.

Mayorkas dismissed concerns about key leaders skipping the summit, telling CNN, “All countries are represented here. So, of course, the President of Mexico is not here, but I had the good fortune to see here the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Secretary Ebrard, with whom I worked closely throughout my trips to Mexico and in the continuation of our dialogue. So no, my confidence is spotless.

On Friday, countries at the Summit of the Americas are expected to sign a declaration on migration that aims to outline how the region should share responsibility for welcoming migrants.

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