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Highlights

This testimony discusses federal efforts to address alien smuggling along the southwest border. Alien smuggling along the southwest border is an increasing threat to the security of the United States and Mexico as well as to the safety of both law enforcement and smuggled aliens. One reason for this increased threat is the involvement of drug trafficking organizations in alien smuggling. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center's (NDIC) 2008 National Drug Threat Assessment, the southwest border region is the principal entry point for smuggled aliens from Mexico, Central America, and South America. Aliens from countries of special interest to the United States such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan (known as special-interest aliens) also illegally enter the United States through the region. According to the NDIC assessment, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become increasingly involved in alien smuggling. These organizations collect fees from alien smuggling organizations for the use of specific smuggling routes, and available reporting indicates that some Mexican drug trafficking organizations specialize in smuggling special-interest aliens into the United States. As a result, these organizations now have alien smuggling as an additional source of funding to counter U.S. and Mexican government law enforcement efforts against them. Violence associated with alien smuggling has also increased in recent years, particularly in Arizona. According to the NDIC assessment, expanding border security initiatives and additional U.S. Border Patrol resources are likely obstructing regularly used smuggling routes and fueling this increase in violence, particularly violence directed at law enforcement officers. Alien smugglers and guides are more likely than in past years to use violence against U.S. law enforcement officers in order to smuggle groups of aliens across the southwest border. In July 2009, a border patrol agent was killed while patrolling the border by aliens illegally crossing the border, the first shooting death of an agent in more than 10 years. Conflicts are also emerging among rival alien smuggling organizations. Assaults, kidnappings, and hostage situations attributed to this conflict are increasing, particularly in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. Communities across the country are at risk since among those individuals illegally crossing the border are criminal aliens and gang members who pose public safety concerns for communities throughout the country. Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Office of Investigations (OI) is responsible for investigating alien smuggling. In addition, DHS's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) have alien smuggling-related programs. This testimony is based on a May 2010 report we are releasing publicly today on alien smuggling along the southwest border. As requested, like the report, this testimony will discuss the following key issues: (1) the amount of investigative effort OI has devoted to alien smuggling along the southwest border since fiscal year 2005 and an opportunity for ICE to use its investigative resources more effectively; (2) DHS progress in seizing assets related to alien smuggling since fiscal year 2005 and financial investigative techniques that could be applied along the southwest border to target and seize the monetary assets of smuggling organizations; and (3) the extent to which ICE/OI and CBP measure progress toward achieving alien smuggling-related program objectives. Our May 2010 report also provides a discussion of the extent to which ICE/OI and CBP have program objectives related to alien smuggling.

Full Report