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Feds split up human smuggling operation at U.S.-Mexico border

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The Justice Department unsealed an indictment Tuesday against eight people who allegedly ran a human smuggling ring at the United States-Mexico border transporting migrants inside crates on flatbed trucks. Photo courtesy of the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department unsealed an indictment Tuesday against eight individuals who allegedly ran a human smuggling ring at the United States-Mexico border transporting migrants inside crates on flatbed trucks. Photo thanks to the Department of Justice.

Sept. 14 (UPI) — The Justice Department announced Tuesday its anti-trafficking task force has dismantled a human smuggling ring at the United States-Mexico border resulting in the arrest of eight people.

The indictment, that was unsealed Tuesday, said Joint Task Force Alpha split up an illegal operation that smuggled migrants in to the U.S. for profit. The indictment says the network was led by Erminia Serrano Piedra, also referred to as “Boss Lady,” who allegedly made huge amount of money illegally transporting migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia in to the USA.

“The charges announced today are simply the latest exemplory case of these efforts’ success,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue steadily to bring our full resources to bear to combat the human smuggling and trafficking groups that endanger our communities, abuse and exploit migrants, and threaten our national security.”

Piedra’s co-conspirators were defined as Kevin Daniel Nuber, Laura Nuber, Lloyd Bexley, Jeremy Dickens, Katie Ann Garcia, Oliveria Piedra-Campuzana and Pedro Hairo Abrigo, the department said.

Based on the indictment, Piedra’s organization transported paying migrants in suitcases, repurposed water tanks and wooden crates on flatbed trucks.

“They packed people in dangerous, tight spaces, with limited ventilation in high temperatures, risking people’s lives and safety for the money,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. “The only real reason for this conspiracy was personal profit. It has allegedly generated huge amount of money in illegal proceeds.”

The human smuggling network allegedly used drivers to get migrants close to the border and transport them in to the USA. The indictment says the migrants were harbored at “stash houses” on the way in Laredo and Austin, Texas. Drivers were allegedly paid just as much as $2,500 for every migrant they illegally transported, based on the Department of Justice.

“Sadly, this case can be an exemplory case of what we see inside our district, way too many times, especially inside our border communities,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery for the Southern District of Texas. “Our Laredo office works continuously with this valued partners to create to justice those that allegedly put profits before the rest. No sum of money should be an alternative for human life.”

Since its creation in 2021, JTFA’s work has led to criminal charges and much more than 100 domestic and international arrests against organizers and facilitators of human smuggling activities, based on the Department of Homeland Security.

“At DHS, countering human smuggling is really a moral imperative, a police priority and essential for the national security,” said Deputy Secretary John Tien of the Department of Homeland Security. “This is a central plank of our efforts to handle irregular migration over the western hemisphere, also to hold transnational criminal organizations in charge of perpetrating vile and horrific crimes.”

The Justice Department will continue to work to forfeit three properties in the Austin area, that have been purchased with arises from the illegal smuggling ring and used to facilitate the organization’s criminal activity.

The department can be seeking monetary judgments against Piedra and two of her co-conspirators for pretty much $2.3 million.

“This human smuggling organization operated on a massive scale, placing a higher value on financial profit, while putting migrants’ lives at great risk,” Polite said. “JTFA will continue steadily to use all means essential to pursue and dismantle criminal smuggling networks and protect the vulnerable populations they exploit.”

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