In a first for the relations between the United States and Guatemala, the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) successfully completed the first extraditions from the South American nation related to charges of human smuggling resulting in death.
“This case demonstrates the deadly threat that human smuggling groups pose to the migrants they endanger and exploit,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “It also demonstrates that Joint Task Force Alpha and the entire Justice Department are doubling down on our efforts to disrupt and dismantle dangerous human smuggling operations and to find and bring to justice the perpetrators – no matter where they are.”
The announcement was made at the Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA) summit in El Paso, Texas, where law enforcement leaders gathered to discuss how best to assail and dismantle human smuggling networks along the Southwest Border. That task force was first created by Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in June 2021 to strengthen their departments’ efforts on smuggling from Central America.
In this case, cooperation between the United States and Guatemalan law enforcement led to the arrest of four supposed leaders and the apprehension of 15 additional targets in Guatemala in August 2022. According to court documents, the Guatemalan nationals Felipe Diego Alonzo, 39; Nesly Norberto Martinez Gomez, 38; Lopez Mateo Mateo, 43; and Juan Gutierrez Castro, 46, allegedly conspired with other smugglers to move large numbers of migrants and their families from Guatemala, through Mexico and ino the United States, charging approximately $10,000 to $12,000 for the migrants and their families.
Ultimately, this may have led to the death of an indigenous Guatemalan woman who died in Texas in May 2021. While the defendants allegedly guided her for several days through the desert to Odessa, Texas, she consequently died there, and they proceeded to dispose of her body on the side of a road in Crane County, Texas, before trying to pay off her family.
Since 2021, JTFA has increased coordination and collaboration between the departments and other interagency law enforcement organizations, including foreign law enforcement partners in the countries of focus: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. It has resulted in criminal charges and more than 183 domestic and international arrests of those affiliated with human smuggling activities, leading to several dozen convictions and the seizure of drugs, firearms, ammunition, and vehicles, on top of financial assets.
“These extraditions speak to the collaboration in this Administration across the federal government and with our partners throughout the hemisphere,” DHS Deputy Secretary John Tien said. “From the frontline efforts of our workforce at Customs and Border Protection to the investigative capabilities we leverage at Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the seamless coordination with our partners at the Justice Department, we are unwavering in our commitment to holding transnational criminal networks accountable for human smuggling and their abuse of migrants.”
Even with extradition concluded, the defendants remain innocent until proven guilty – the charges, arrests, and indictment remain allegations until addressed in court.