WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security is launching a new operation to target transnational criminal organizations that smuggle immigrants across the southern U.S. border, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Tuesday.
Through "Operation Sentinel," DHS will partner with the State Department, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration to disrupt smuggling organizations' access to profit.
"We know all too well that these organizations put profit over human life with devastating consequences," said Mayorkas.
"We intend to disrupt every facet of the logistical network that these organizations use."
The Biden administration has kept intact a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authority known as Title 42 that expels families and single adult migrants who try to enter the U.S. without a visa. It was intended to stop the spread of Covid, but immigration experts and advocates have blamed the policy for incentivizing human smuggling organizations by allowing them to charge high prices to bring immigrants into the U.S. undetected.
Mayorkas said Title 42 would remain in place while his agency also rooted out smuggling organizations.
"We will continue to exercise that public health authority that is authorized by CDC until that is no longer needed. At the same time we are addressing the transnational criminal organizations that exploit the migrants and their vulnerabilities. We have a responsibility to both elements," Mayorkas said.
During the ongoing surge of migrants crossing the U.S. border, videos have emerged of toddlers being dropped over high walls and of a young boy desperate for help after being abandoned in the desert.
Troy Miller, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said his agency has rescued 4,766 migrants along the southwest border since October who were abandoned by smugglers.
"Transnational criminal organizations routinely attempt to smuggle people in groups but often end up abandoning women and children when they can't keep up," Miller said.
Mayorkas said the operation will be bigger than a similar effort launched in 2014 because it is broader in scope and targeting "the people, the property, not just the money."
"We will identify the smugglers and their associates and employ a series of targeted actions and sanctions against them. We will have a broad approach and a strong one. It will include every authority in our arsenal, including revocation of travel documents…freezing of banking and other financial assets, and these are just some of the examples," Mayorkas said.