The number of migrants crossing the border is falling, partly because US agents are helping to catch smugglers in Latin America

Arrests of undocumented migrants crossing the US southern border have fallen nearly 14 percent from an all-time high in May, partly due to an increase in US-backed arrests of smugglers in Central America far from US soil, it said the internal briefing materials obtained from NBC News.

Agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations, some of them in Central American countries, were responsible for the arrests of an average of 240 smugglers in a single week in June, according to the materials prepared by the Department of Homeland Security for a Briefing at the White House.

According to the document, agents working outside the US provide local law enforcement with information about smugglers who are targeted for arrest.

More than 1,300 DHS employees are focused on fighting smugglers, and the agency has spent more than $50 million on those efforts since April, a DHS spokesman said.

Arrests of smugglers in Central and Latin American countries surged in June, and the number of undocumented migrants crossing the US-Mexico border began falling from a peak in May of more than 7,700 daily arrests.

By the end of June, the numbers had fallen 14 percent and remained relatively flat. An average of 6,800 undocumented migrants were stopped at the southern land border every day for the first two weeks of July, according to preliminary figures shared internally by CBP and made available to NBC News.

Seasonal trends are also responsible for the decline, with fewer migrants making the journey during the hot summer months in most years. But the monthly numbers actually increased in the summers of 2018, 2020 and 2021. And while the first few months of 2022 saw record levels of border traffic, crossings this July are on track to fall below those of the same month last year.

People smugglers, also known as coyotes, are often associated with drug cartels and exact thousands of dollars from migrants to transport them to the United States on dangerous journeys, during which some are kidnapped, assaulted or left to die. Smuggling networks are so widespread across the region that it is exceedingly rare for an undocumented migrant to cross the US southern border on foot without the help of a smuggler.

In the intelligence materials, DHS estimated that for every smuggler stopped, 24 migrants were either stopped or prevented from crossing the border. DHS credits smuggler arrests for stopping up to 1,329 migrants daily.

The Biden administration boasted of increased partnership and coordination with governments and law enforcement agencies in Mexico and Central and South America. But the extent of the role US immigration officers play in arresting smugglers outside the US has remained largely hidden.

The intelligence materials show that during a week at the end of June, CBP agents were responsible for arresting 166 smugglers and ICE agents for Homeland Security Investigations were responsible for 74 arrests outside the US. The agents also helped uncover hidden homes and trailers containing migrants in Central America.

Sergio Gonzales, the executive director of The Immigration Hub, which advocates for progressive immigration policies, said US voters broadly support arresting people smugglers but warned the Biden administration must do more to provide safe, legal routes open to asylum seekers.


“These are really bad actors who take advantage of people in really desperate and difficult situations,” Gonzales said of people smugglers. “But you can’t just deny people ways to get to safety.”

Gonzales also said the details of ICE and CBP’s work in the region are significant because of the “troubled history of US law enforcement in Latin America, which has caused major problems in the region.”

The extent of US immigration officials’ involvement with law enforcement officials who physically make the arrests is unclear, but the intelligence materials suggest that US officials keep accurate records of which arrests they facilitate.

White House and DHS spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment. The number of migrants crossing the border is falling, partly because US agents are helping to catch smugglers in Latin America

Fry Electronics Team

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