38 Arrested in INS Effort Against Immigrant Smuggling
U.S. immigration officers working with counterparts in Mexico and five
Central American nations have arrested 38 immigrant smugglers, including
an alleged kingpin,
and detained 3,500 of their clients before they got to the United States.
The results of Operation Forerunner, the first simultaneous, coordinated,
multinational anti-smuggling action, were announced by Immigration and
Service Commissioner Doris Meissner at a news conference yesterday. The three-week operation began Sept. 21.
Meissner described the joint operation as an "extremely cost-effective"
way to attack the billion-dollar immigrant smuggling business. Apprehending
their clients in Latin America saves the U.S. government the cost of finding and detaining illegal immigrants here and "is much less dangerous for the migrants," whose
lives often are risked on their journey, Meissner said.
The most significant arrest was arranged with help from the Guatemalan
government. Two people employed by the INS located alleged smuggling kingpin
Castillo in Guatemala. Guatemala expelled him to his native country, Honduras, but did so by putting him on a plane that went first to the United States, said Richard
Cravener, head of the INS's Houston office.
Upon arrival in Los Angeles on Oct. 5, Castillo was arrested. He will be transferred this month to Houston, where he faces federal immigrant smuggling charges.
The other Central American countries participating in the operation
were Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama. Thirty-four of the 38 smugglers
outside the United States and face charges where they were taken into custody.
The 3,500 migrants detained abroad had paid as much as $3,800 apiece
to the smugglers and were headed to Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, New York,
Atlanta and other destinations, officials said. They came from 25 countries, but primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and El Salvador. Most were returned
to their home countries, U.S. officials said.
The other three smugglers arrested in the United States were Ecuadoran
citizens captured Friday in Miami. They were charged with immigrant smuggling
the U.S. Coast Guard's May 10 encounter with a 60-foot vessel off Guatemala with 152 Ecuadorans aboard who had paid as much as $8,000 each to be smuggled
to the United States, the INS said.