The Biden administration on Monday announced the formation of a new task force to combat human trafficking and smuggling groups operating in the Northern Triangle countries and Mexico in tandem with Vice President Harris’s trip to the region.
The initiative was one of a handful highlighted by Harris during a press conference Monday afternoon alongside Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei.
The Justice Department said that the new task force, known as Joint Task Force Alpha, will involve federal prosecutors partnering with officials working for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to dismantle and prosecute human trafficking and smuggling networks operating out of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
“Transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks pose a serious criminal threat. These networks not only seek to profit from the exploitation of migrants, but also routinely expose them to violence, injury, and even death,” Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandGarland orders DOJ to prioritize violence on airplanes Buttigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey DOJ seeks to block merger of major sugar companies MORE wrote in a memo to U.S. attorneys on Monday.
“The Joint Task Force will investigate and prosecute those who are criminally smuggling and trafficking individuals into the United States, with a particular focus on individuals and networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger those being smuggled, pose national security threats, or have links to transnational organized crime,” Garland wrote.
The memo says that since October of last year, DHS has rescued more than 4,000 migrants at the southwest border who were abandoned by smugglers.
The task force will involve federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorneys' offices for the District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas and Western District of Texas as well as prosecutors from the Justice Department’s criminal and civil rights divisions. The task force will also be assisted by DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol law enforcement officials.
“We will take action to identify smugglers and their associates to ensure that we enhance the security of the U.S. border, and help save the lives of vulnerable people these organizations routinely prey upon," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasButtigieg has high name recognition, favorability rating in Biden Cabinet: survey Meet Ayelet Shaked, Israel's polarizing and powerful Interior minister Watch live: DHS secretary testifies on border security MORE said in a statement.
Officials will work with foreign partners in the Northern Triangle and Mexico in order to investigate and prosecute human trafficking and smuggling groups in addition to spearheading investigations in the U.S.
Speaking to reporters in Guatemala during her first foreign trip as vice president, Harris said the Biden administration would also form an anti-corruption task force and a young women’s empowerment initiative and would invest in affordable housing, agriculture businesses and entrepreneurs in Guatemala. The investments will total $48 million over four years, according to a White House fact sheet.
"I want to emphasize that the goal of our work is to help Guatemalans find hope at home. At the same time I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States Mexico border: Do not come," Harris said at the press conference.
She described efforts to counter corruption as essential to upholding democracies and among the highest priorities of the Biden administration.
—Updated at 5:24 p.m.