Extensive coordination and cooperation efforts between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities culminated in the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) Mexico and the Fuerza Estatal de Seguridad Ciudadana (FESC) executing the arrests of a human smuggler, along with a co-conspirator, alleged to have operated on the U.S.-Mexico border for several years.
Ofelia Hernandez-Salas, 60, and co-conspirator Raul Saucedo-Huipio, 48, were arrested in Mexico at the request of the United States pursuant to charges previously filed in the District of Arizona and unsealed last week. Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants from and through Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Eritrea, India, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and ultimately, into the United States. Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio allegedly charged the migrants as much as tens of thousands of dollars to make the illegal and perilous journey. In addition to the large-scale smuggling of migrants to the United States, Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio often allegedly robbed the migrants of their personal belongings while armed with weapons such as guns and knives.
“The indictment and arrests of human smugglers send a stark message that the Department of Justice will not rest until all those who feed on the desperation of others are brought to justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “By dismantling an organization that has operated with impunity for so many years, we have taken yet another stride toward making the global community a safer place. It is thanks to our tremendous partnerships with countries like Mexico that we are able to draw a line in the sand and make it crystal clear that people will no longer be treated like commodities and their lives will no longer be put at risk in the name of profit.”
“Once again we see that international cooperation is far more important to a border strategy than physical barriers,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino for the District of Arizona. “These defendants allegedly conspired to flout America’s immigration laws, and to victimize the very migrants they were purporting to help. Our friends and neighbors in Mexican law enforcement have been integral to our efforts to bring this smuggling ring to justice.”
The indictments against Hernandez-Salas and Saucedo-Huipio and their subsequent arrests were coordinated under Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). JTFA was created by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021, in partnership with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, to strengthen the department’s overall efforts to combat these crimes based on the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle those human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse, or exploit migrants, present national security risks, or engage in other types of transnational organized crime.
“This administration has led an unprecedented anti-human smuggling campaign that leverages the full weight of the U.S. government, and it is showing results,” said Deputy Secretary John K. Tien of the Department of Homeland Security. “These indictments build on tremendous collaboration across the federal government, which includes JTFA, and the investments we continue to make in strengthening our relationships with partners in the region and throughout the hemisphere. We are unwavering in our commitment to continuing to hold transnational criminal networks accountable, and to bring them to justice.”
“Combatting human smuggling is one of our top law enforcement priorities, and a critical component of national security,” said Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tae D. Johnson of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “Homeland Security Investigations special agents are committed to holding transnational criminal organizations accountable for perpetrating this horrific crime. We will continue to employ our full range of law enforcement techniques and authorities against human smugglers – let today’s announcement serve as a reminder that we will expose you, dismantle your networks, and see that you face justice.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), along with our partners, will continue to use every authority at our disposal to curtail these threats and prevent harm,” said Acting Commissioner Troy Miller of the CBP. “Our ongoing joint enforcement efforts to attack and dismantle these dangerous global criminal networks will keep our borders strong and local streets and communities safe.”
Since its creation, JTFA has successfully increased coordination and collaboration between the Justice Department, DHS, and other interagency law enforcement participants, and with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico; targeted those organizations who have the most impact on the United States; and coordinated significant smuggling indictments and extradition efforts in U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country. JTFA is comprised of detailees from southwest border U.S. Attorneys’ offices, including the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico, the District of Arizona, and the Southern District of California, and dedicated support for the program is also provided by numerous components of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division that are part of JTFA – led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT), the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), and the Organized Crime and Gang Section (OCGS). JTFA is made possible by substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, DEA, and other partners.
The investigation is also supported by the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks, or present grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence, and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.
HSI Yuma is investigating the case with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), CBP, U.S. Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ICE-ERO), FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), working in concert with HSI Tijuana, INTERPOL, and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. HSI also received substantial assistance from CBP’s National Targeting Center/Counter Network Division and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The Department of Justice thanks Mexican law enforcement, who were instrumental in arresting Hernandez-Salas, including substantial assistance provided by FESC.
JTFA Co-Director James Hepburn and Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of HRSP and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Jennis for the District of Arizona are prosecuting the case, with significant assistance provided by the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.