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Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. Delivers Remarks on Tractor-Trailer Smuggling Incident


San Antonio, TX
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, U.S. Attorney Esparza.

The victims of this human smuggling operation died under horrific circumstances, underscoring the callous disregard smuggling organizations, such as this one, show for human life.

Fifty-three people, including eight children, lost their lives in this tragic incident exactly one year ago today.

Fifty-three lives.

You heard U.S. Attorney Esparza describe some of the conditions in that vehicle, but it bears repeating.

It bears remembering.

As alleged, these smugglers’ knowledge and criminal acts led to dangerous temperatures in that vehicle. And as those temperatures rose, those people banged, and scratched, and clawed, and yelled out for their humanity.

Fifty-three lives.

My prayer is that this superseding indictment and arrests of four additional defendants will provide some measure of justice for the victims of this terrible tragedy, thanks to the dedication of our partners: the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, led by my colleague U.S. Attorney Esparza; and the dedicated agents of Homeland Security Investigations, in close coordination with Attorney General Garland’s human smuggling and trafficking task force, Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA).

As head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, I have been honored to oversee Joint Task Force Alpha’s work and am immensely proud of the leadership of prosecutors from our Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas in this important initiative.

This catastrophic incident and the resulting loss of life epitomizes why we created Joint Task Force Alpha: to dismantle the international networks responsible for outright dangerous human smuggling activities that exploit migrants.

Joint Task Force Alpha is a model of how we can leverage collaboration among our law enforcement partners, here in the United States and in the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico, to tackle these criminal networks that prey upon vulnerable – and often desperate – people for profit.

Since its creation by Attorney General Merrick Garland in June 2021, Joint Task Force Alpha has tirelessly pursued significant enforcement actions, including nearly 200 domestic and international arrests; over 80 convictions; significant jail sentences; and substantial seizures and forfeiture of assets and contraband including hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, property, vehicles, firearms, ammunition, and drugs.

I am immensely grateful to our law enforcement partners who built this investigation: Homeland Security Investigations, along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center; U.S. Border Patrol; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the San Antonio Police Department; and the Palestine Police Department. And I want to thank our JTFA partners in the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico for their assistance in this case.

Rest assured that Joint Task Force Alpha will continue to relentlessly pursue criminal organizations engaged in human smuggling. Our message to those smugglers remains constant: when you put people’s lives at risk, when you ignore the humanity of others for profit, we will bring you and the members of your organization to justice, wherever you operate.

Human Smuggling
Updated June 27, 2023