ICE Initiatives to Combat Southwest Border Violence
As the agency with the broadest law enforcement authority in
of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) is uniquely positioned to combat vulnerabilities
and threats to America that arise from the nation’s borders.
ICE has established aggressive intelligence and investigative
operations at the nation’s ports of entries, between the
ports and in the nation’s interior.
border of the United States is a region particularly vulnerable
to cross-border criminal enterprises
and the violence
associated with them. In recent years, ICE has seen an unprecedented
surge in brutality by drug and human smuggling & trafficking
organizations along the Southwest border. Below are a few of
the initiatives that ICE has launched to combat the criminal
organizations behind this activity.
BEST TASK FORCE / BORDER DRUG VIOLENCE
violence along the Texas-Mexico border, particularly in the
Nuevo Laredo / Laredo area has
surged over the past year.
This violence is caused by intense competition between the remnants
of the Gulf Cartel and the “Federation.” The Gulf
Cartel continues to be supervised by Osiel Cardenas Guillen despite
his arrest in 2003. Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera
and Arturo Beltran Leyva are members of the Federation which
is attempting to take control of this important smuggling corridor
from the Gulf Cartel
ICE first partnered with other federal, state, and local law
enforcement officials in Laredo, Texas,
a multi-agency operation called Operation Black Jack in July
2005. Operation Black Jack has subsequently evolved into the
DHS’s Border Enforcement and Security Task Force, known
task force incorporates personnel from ICE, Customs and Border
Protection (CBP), ATF, FBI, DEA, U.S.
U.S. Attorney’s Office, and key state and local law enforcement
agencies. The BEST task force concept incorporates personnel
from existing intelligence groups — involved in both collection
and analysis — to help identify and disseminate information
relating to violent smuggling organizations. The BEST task force
has been a highly successful tool to combat violence in the Laredo
This coordinated approach has led to significant enforcement
results, including the January / February 2006 seizures in Laredo
of dynamite, numerous live grenades, as well as materials to
make roughly 33 Improvised Explosive Devices. Since its inception,
BEST has resulted in 31 arrests and the seizure of 41 assault
rifles, 12 handguns, 5 silencers, a large quantity of weapons
components, kits, and ammunition, as well as roughly 700 pounds
of marijuana, 336 pounds of cocaine and roughly $1.14 million.
Nationwide, ICE investigations into drug trafficking activity
last year resulted in the seizure of more than 300,000 pounds
of cocaine, 2.2 million pounds of marijuana, nearly 4,000 pounds
of heroin, 2,200 pounds of methamphetamine, and hundreds of thousands
of pounds of other smuggled drugs.
HUMAN SMUGGLING / TRAFFICKING INVESTIGATIONS
The violence experienced on the Southwest border is not only
caused only by drug trafficking organizations, but also human
smuggling and human trafficking rings. These international organizations,
which earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually through smuggling
and exploitation of illegal immigrants, are becoming increasingly
ruthless. In case after case, ICE agents have seen aliens being
smuggled in squalid conditions without food, water, or even air.
Moreover, they are frequently subjected to violence, forced labor
and sexual exploitation upon arrival at their U.S. destination.
Since the creation of ICE in March 2003, ICE investigations
into human smuggling and trafficking organizations had resulted
in more than 5,400 criminal arrests, 2,800 criminal indictments,
and 2,300 criminal convictions. The amount of assets seized by
ICE from human smugglers and human trafficking organizations
has increased from almost none before 2003 to nearly $27 million
In one case that culminated in January 2006, ICE agents in El
Paso, Texas, arrested the leaders of two large-scale criminal
organizations on charges of smuggling more than 600 aliens across
the Southwest border. The organizations allegedly generated more
than $1.6 million in smuggling fees. Depending on their nationality,
aliens were charged between $1,500 and $6,000 apiece. During
the investigation, ICE agents encountered large numbers of smuggled
aliens crammed into trailers for non-stop trips with no food
and limited water.
recent ICE case, two individuals were convicted on February
2, 2006, in Tucson, Arizona on 15 counts
each of smuggling
aliens. Both face potential life sentences based on enhancements
for causing death and bodily injury during their smuggling venture.
These smugglers were transporting aliens in a stolen truck on
an Arizona Interstate in October 2004 and, during a high-speed
pursuit, caused an accident that involved 10 vehicles. The accident
resulted in death of five 5 people, including an elderly couple.
In addition, 38 people were injured, including 21 people with "level
SOUTHWEST BORDER TUNNEL ACTIVITY
In some cases, increased actions by law enforcement agencies
along the border are driving smuggling organizations underground.
In January 2006, ICE worked with its Mexican counterparts, as
well as with the DEA and CBP in the United States, to discover
a sophisticated tunnel beneath the border between San Diego,
California, and Tijuana, Mexico. Mexican authorities later executed
a search warrant at a location in Mexico and seized 4,351 pounds
Subsequent investigation revealed that the tunnel was the longest
ever discovered under the Southwest border, extending nearly
half a mile from Mexico into the United States. Descending to
a depth of 81 feet below ground, the tunnel was equipped with
lighting, ventilation and cement flooring. An exit was found
inside a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California. Approximately 300
additional pounds of marijuana were seized at this location.
Since 9/11, federal authorities have discovered more than 20
cross-border tunnels along the U.S. – Mexico border in California
TARGETING THE FINANCES OF CROSS-BORDER CRIMINAL ENTERPRISES
For example, the smuggling of bulk currency out of the United
States, and especially across the Southwest border, has become
one of the preferred methods of moving illicit proceeds out of
the country. In 2001, Congress criminalized the act of bulk cash
smuggling under 31 U.S.C. Section 5332 of the Patriot Act, which
makes it a crime to conceal and smuggle more than $10,000 in
currency and monetary instruments into or out of the United States
with the intent to evade U.S. currency-reporting requirements.
ICE agents have used this authority to make more than 330 arrests.
In addition, ICE and CBP have cumulatively seized more than $160
million of the funds involved in these bulk cash smuggling violations.
efforts against bulk cash smuggling do not end at U.S. borders.
In August 2005, ICE partnered with
CBP and the
State Department to initiate a training program with Mexican
authorities on ways to combat cash smuggling. As a result of
this joint financial initiative, Mexican authorities have seized
more than $18 million in cash and $5 million in negotiable instruments
that were involved in violations of Mexican currency-reporting
Aside from bulk cash smuggling, ICE works to investigate other
methods that criminals use to move their illicit funds out of
the United States, such as the use of unlicensed money services
businesses. These businesses operate outside the traditional
banking system and have been long recognized by law enforcement
as vulnerable to abuse. The enhancements enacted in 18 U.S.C.
Section 1960 under the Patriot Act, provide law enforcement with
increased authority to investigate unlicensed money remitters.
Since the passage of the Patriot Act, ICE investigations of unlicensed
money services businesses have resulted in more than 171 arrests
and the seizure of $25 million.
Makes Arrest in Probe of Major
Southwest Border Tunnel
ventilated tunnel stretches the length of eight football
fields across the U.S.-Mexico border. The tunnel, which
has professional engineering features and a concrete floor,
was discovered by members of the San Diego Tunnel Task
Force. Inside the tunnel on the U.S. side, ICE agents and
other investigators discovered several hundred pounds of
California (ICE) — ICE agents arrested a suspect January 28
in connection with
ongoing investigation into
a major drug tunnel
linking warehouses in Otay Mesa, Calif. and Tijuana, Mexico.
The tunnel is one of the largest and most sophisticated ever
discovered on the South- west border.
The suspect, a Mexican national, faces charges
of conspiracy to import a controlled sub- stance. Investigators
say the allegations
stem from the man’s ties to the Otay Mesa ware- house that
concealed the U.S. access point for the highly sophisticated
The arrest came less than 24 hours after ICE issued an alert,
warning that case leads indicated persons who had been in the
tunnel or were responsible for its design or construction might
be in imminent danger. ICE urged those individuals to come forward
and contact ICE at any port of entry along the Mexican border.
The agency pledged it would do everything in its power to ensure
The ongoing investigation is being carried out by the San Diego
Tunnel Task Force, made up of agents and officers from ICE, the
Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection
(CBP). Since the existence of the passageway was confirmed January
25, task force investigators have been working round-the-clock
following up a wide variety of leads.
“As this weekend’s arrest demonstrates, our investigation
is progressing very quickly,” said Miguel Unzueta, special
agent-in-charge for ICE in San Diego. “The task force is
working tirelessly to bring those responsible for this audacious
crime to justice.”
The task force is receiving substantial support
in the investigation from CBP’s forensic lab, which is conducting advanced fingerprint
analysis and DNA sampling. In addition, ICE’s Cybercrimes
Unit is assisting with computer forensics.
The tunnel discovery is the result of a long-term investigation
by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force. It is using an array of high-tech
equipment and intelligence information to pinpoint the location
of underground passageways along the border in the region. Since
9/11, federal authorities have discovered more than 20 cross-border
tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.