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DHS Agents Helped Dismantle Illegal Immigrant Smuggling Ring

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Guatemalan and Department of Homeland Security officials busted a multi-million-dollar human smuggling operation Wednesday.

Nine leaders of a major human smuggling ring were captured on Wednesday, thanks to a joint effort by Guatemalan authorities and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Investigation 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.”

News of the major bust comes after Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan signed a Memorandum of Cooperation alongside Guatemalan officials on 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 McAleenan said, adding:

“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.”

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan Testifies Before Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 23: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies for agency’s fiscal year 2020 budget request before Senate Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on May 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year, the administration separated more than 2,500 children from parents as part of a policy to prosecute anyone caught crossing into the United States illegally, but that practice was stopped. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

McAleenan is currently 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. (RELATED: Trump Cracks Down On People That Help Immigrants Illegally Enter The US)

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 explained.

Merida’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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