Dudley Althaus, Houston Chronicle, Mar. 24
MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials have arrested 44 people, almost all of them current or former government employees, in what is being described as the biggest crackdown yet on networks protecting the country’s human-smuggling trade.
The arrests announced Tuesday were aimed at breaking up trafficking organizations that stretched from southern Mexico to the U.S. border as well as attacking official corruption, authorities said.
“The government has been very clear that the trafficking of people is a shameful, intolerable crime,” Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha said at a Tuesday news conference. “It means trafficking in human necessity.”
Mexican officials implicated
Mexican authorities said most of the 44 arrested in the smuggling crackdown are current or former government employees:
Among those arrested were 26 officials and six former employees at the National Immigration Institute, Mexico’s border enforcement agency. Seven of those agents were members of Grupo Beta, a special force that provides aid and medical care to migrants along the border.
Also detained were 10 current or former policemen and two alleged smugglers.
The suspects, who face charges of organized crime and migrant-trafficking, could be sentenced to 10 to 28 years in prison, if convicted on both counts.
Macedo and Interior Minister Santiago Creel said the arrests sent a strong signal to Mexican public servants about corruption, which aids organizations smuggling both narcotics and human beings into the United States.
“We’re not going to permit a single act of corruption,” Creel said. “This is the signal we want to send today, that we are committed to give efficient battle to corruption wherever it’s found.”
The protection network for human traffickers that was hit by the arrests operated across Mexico, smuggling mostly Brazilians, Cubans, Central Americans and Asians through the country into the United States, officials said.
Would-be migrants paid smugglers between $2,000 and $6,000 for the service, officials said, with Chinese and other Asians paying the most.
The Mexican government has requested help from U.S. authorities to investigate whether the smuggling network benefited from official corruption in the United States as well, Macedo said.
Human trafficking is the second most lucrative activity being carried out by Mexican organized crime, after the narcotics trade, officials say.
The Bush administration has been pressuring Mexico to clamp down on human traffickers, known as coyotes or polleros, whose business has grown as the U.S. border has become more difficult to cross.
Most undocumented migrants slipping across the U.S.-Mexico border are Mexican. But an increasing number of people from elsewhere are using Mexico as a trampoline.
In 2003, Mexico detained and deported nearly 190,000 undocumented foreigners, most of them from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to official figures. In the first two months of this year, nearly 40,000 undocumented migrants, mostly Central Americans, were detained.
Mexican investigators last year identified 30 criminal organizations with more than 120 human-smuggling gangs operating nationwide, Creel said. To date, the government has dismantled 23 of the organizations.