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Press Release

Readout of Joint Task Force Alpha’s Third Anniversary Meeting

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs
Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security Expand Joint Task Force Alpha to Colombia and Panama to Combat Human Smuggling in the Darién; Justice Department Transmits New Legislative Proposal; and State Department Announces $8M Rewards Offer

Today, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland marked the third anniversary of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), the highly successful national effort to investigate and prosecute human smuggling at the southern border, by convening senior leaders of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and State to discuss their shared, ongoing work. Over the past three years, the work of JTFA has led to over 300 domestic and international arrests and over 240 convictions in the United States. Among other things, the meeting covered several new initiatives, including JTFA’s expansion to combat human smuggling in Colombia and Panama, which lie on either side of a region known as the Darién; a legislative proposal to increase penalties for the most prolific and dangerous human smugglers; and $8 million in rewards offers issued as part of the new Anti-Smuggling Rewards Initiative announced two weeks ago.

“Today, we are doubling down on our efforts to strike at the heart of where human smuggling networks operate,” said Attorney General Garland. “In the next phase of Joint Task Force Alpha’s work, we are expanding its regional focus, offering new financial rewards for information about key leaders of smuggling criminal organizations, and asking Congress to enact longer sentences for human smugglers. We will continue to work across the federal government to disrupt and dismantle the human smuggling networks that prey on vulnerable migrants and endanger our national security.”

“We are using every tool at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle the human smuggling networks that have spread misery throughout the Western Hemisphere,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “With today’s announcement, we are expanding our enforcement efforts to the Darién—among the most dangerous migrant crossings on Earth—and deploying rewards programs like the ones that have brought down drug kingpins to pursue human smugglers. To those who traffic human beings through the Darién, know this: the full force of the U.S. government is coming for you.” 

The Darién is a roadless stretch of mountainous jungle terrain connecting southern Panama with northern Colombia that forms the sole land bridge between Central America and South America. Its treacherous landscape has witnessed a surge in human smuggling as migrants cross it on foot, often exposing themselves to mortal danger at the hands of criminal smuggling organizations to do so. Organized criminals who control the route routinely target migrants—adults and children—for violent crimes, including murder, rape, and robbery, as well as extortion. Many migrants try to circumvent the land route by taking a sea voyage, which is just as dangerous. They risk death on this path, too, facing rough seas, overcrowding, rickety boats, and insufficient life vests.

“Countering human smuggling, and the ruthless criminal organizations that perpetrate it, is a law enforcement priority and critical to our homeland security,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Kristie Canegallo. “The Department of Homeland Security and our partners across the Biden-Harris Administration are prioritizing combatting human smuggling with the coordinated efforts and innovation that this crime demands. The steps taken today to expand the scope of Joint Task Force Alpha will lead to more arrests, indictments, and convictions of traffickers; support our efforts to dismantle transnational criminal organizations; and help protect migrants from those looking to exploit them for financial gain.” 

The Attorney General was joined at today’s event by key partners in JTFA’s ongoing work, including Deputy Attorney General Monaco; Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Canegallo; Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Todd D. Robinson; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Deputy Executive Associate Director Patrick McElwain of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Deputy Chief David S. BeMiller of U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas; U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas; U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez for the District of New Mexico; U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino for the District of Arizona; and U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath for the Southern District of California.

When the Attorney General created JTFA in 2021, it focused on human smuggling organizations operating in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Since then, JTFA—led by the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section, in close partnership with all five southwest border U.S. Attorneys’ Offices—has brought many major human smugglers to justice in the United States, including by obtaining years- or decades-long prison sentences. Expanding JTFA to Colombia and Panama recognizes those achievements and seeks to apply that same approach—using expert investigative, prosecutorial, and intelligence resources to target and aggressively pursue, disrupt, and dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks—to achieve accountability and deterrence, with an unwavering focus on human safety, in Colombia and Panama.

JTFA’s expansion is another example of the Justice Department’s sustained focus on prosecuting human smuggling, following last week’s joint announcement with the Departments of Homeland Security and State regarding a new Anti-Smuggling Rewards Initiative, support for enhancements to the penalties for smuggling, and other efforts.

In addition, earlier today, the Department formally transmitted to Congress a new legislative proposal to increase penalties for the most prolific and dangerous human smugglers. The proposal, titled the “Deterring Human Smuggling and Harm to Victims Act of 2024,” would amend U.S. Sentencing Guideline 2L1.1, which governs human smuggling offenses, by creating steeper penalty tiers based on the number of people smuggled by the defendant; increasing penalties when the defendant’s conduct results in injury or death to more than one person; and ensuring defendants are subject to sentencing enhancements for sexual assault and other types of prohibited sexual conduct committed during the smuggling offense, even if that conduct occurred outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The State Department also announced today the first three awards under the Anti-Smuggling Rewards Initiative. These awards, which total up to $8 million, were discussed at today’s meeting by Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robinson. These awards focus on human smuggling operations by the Clan del Golfo in the Darién, and offer: (1) Up to $2 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key leader of Clan del Golfo involved in human smuggling in the Darién; (2) Up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of financial mechanisms of the Clan del Golfo to finance, sustain, or support human smuggling operations in the Darién; and (3) Up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key leader of Clan del Golfo involved in human smuggling in the Darién by encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the United States resulting in death, in violation of 8 U.S.C. §§ 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv) and 1324(a)(1)(B)(iv). Information in response to the reward offer can be shared with HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection by telephone at (866) 347-2423 (toll free) or online at Individuals located outside of the United States, can contact the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate and all identities are kept strictly confidential.

AG DAG JTFA meeting
AG DAG JTFA meeting
AG DAG JTFA meeting

Fact Sheet 

Updated June 11, 2024

Human Smuggling
Press Release Number: 24-737