Biden administration targets human trafficking cartels in Darién Gap

Migrants planning to begin crossing the Darien Gap from Colombia to Panama in hopes of reaching the United States gather at the trailhead camp in Acandi, Colombia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Image was part of a series by Associated Press photographers Ivan Valencia, Eduardo Verdugo, Felix Marquez, Marco Ugarte Fernando Llano, Eric Gay, Gregory Bull and Christian Chavez who won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to end human trafficking in the remote Darién Gap region of Colombia and Panama and offering rewards for information on cartel leaders.

In a call with reporters Tuesday, top officials from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State said the remote jungles of Darién Gap would now be the target area to end migrant smuggling into the north, in an operation known as Joint Task Force Alfa (JTFA).

This comes as President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week that significantly limits asylum applications at the southwest border.

Border Report asked how this new expansion of the JTFA would pair with new asylum policies at the border and what their expectations are for the results.

“Joint Task Force Alpha focuses on law at the corporate organizational level – eliminating, targeting and eliminating the leaders of these networks and organizations,” a senior Justice Department official said. “We certainly hope that these policies and these new rules will have a much greater effect and reduce the number of people who go to the border and then cross it. »

To do this, the senior official said: “We are reaching out to the highest levels of these organizations. »

Joint Task Force Alpha is celebrating its third anniversary and has focused on eradicating cartels and criminal organizations in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

It now adds Panama and Colombia to the list.

Haitian migrants cross the Tuquesa River after crossing the Darien Gap in Bajo Chiquito, Panama, October 4, 2023. (AP File Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)

Since its launch, the operation has resulted in more than 300 domestic and international arrests and more than 240 convictions in the United States, officials said.

“We are using every tool at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle the human trafficking networks that have sown misery across the Western Hemisphere,” Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, we are expanding our enforcement efforts in Darién – one of the most dangerous migrant crossings in the world – and deploying rewards programs like those that took down the barons of drugs to pursue people smugglers. To those who traffic human beings across Darién, know this: the full force of the United States government is coming against you.”

The State Department is also offering an $8 million reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction, as well as financial disruption, of the Clan del Golfo cartel, a Colombian cartel that is the main organization criminal trafficking migrants through the 60s. mile Darién Gap. The rewards are offered through the agency’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program.

Rewards are offered for:

  • Up to $2 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key Clan del Golfo leader involved in human trafficking in Darién.

  • Up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of Clan del Golfo’s financial mechanisms aimed at financing, supporting or supporting human smuggling operations in Darién.

  • Up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key Clan del Golfo leader involved in human trafficking in Darién by encouraging and enticing foreigners to enter the United States, resulting in death

Information in response to the reward offer may be shared with Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection by calling toll-free (866) 347-2423 or online at /tips.

On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee will meet and consider legislation that would amplify law enforcement operations with foreign partners to combat human and drug trafficking through the Partnership Against International Drug and Human Trafficking Act of 2024.

The number of migrant encounters in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has been relatively low since the order was issued: only about 200 per day.

On Tuesday, Pastor Abraham Barberi, who leads a church in Matamoros, Mexico, and helps migrants south of the border, said fewer than 50 migrants were living in a camp on the banks of the Rio Grande, where there used to be hundreds.

He said a few hundred migrants live in a renovated hospital further inland in Matamoros that is guarded by Mexican police and sponsored by Catholic officials and the Mexican government.

He said the majority of migrants are no longer waiting in the border towns of Tamaulipas, Mexico, but are traveling to larger cities, like Monterrey, Mexico, where they are waiting to have an asylum interview through the app. CBP One. About 1,500 interviews are granted daily at U.S. ports of entry, including several in South Texas.

“Thanks to CBP One, people decided to wait and not cross the river,” Barberi told Border Report. “We saw some desperate families crossing the river with their children. And before this order, you saw them. Now we tell them, “Don’t do it, because you might get in trouble.” »

Under Biden’s proclamation, migrants who enter illegally are barred from re-entering the United States for five years.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at [email protected].