Homeland Security Efforts to Combat Increase in Human Trafficking-Related Violence Along Border ‘Static,’ GAO Says

By Edwin Mora | July 26, 2010 | 6:30 PM EDT

Suspected illegal immigrants are detained by law enforcement officials in Phoenix after a drop house was raided Thursday, April 29, 2010. Police said there were nine illegal immigrants and three suspected human smugglers in this raid. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(CNSNews.com) - In recent years there has been an increase in violence associated with human trafficking along the southwest border. Despite this, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agency’s investigative resources committed to alien smuggling in that area have remained “static,” according to a government audit.   
The audit was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and was released by Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, during a hearing held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism last Thursday. 
According to the GAO, the alien-smuggling related violence has been fueled by drug trafficking organizations seeking revenue for passage. The GAO also revealed that “some” Mexican drug traffickers specialize in transporting individuals from countries with ties to terrorism such as Iran and Afghanistan into the U.S.
“The violence associated with alien smuggling has also increased in recent years, particularly in Arizona,” Stana testified during the House hearing.
“Alien smuggling along the southwest border is an increasing threat for the security of the United States and Mexico as well as to the safety of both law enforcement and smuggled alien,” he continued. “One reason for this increased threat is the involvement of drug trafficking organizations, which collect fees from alien smugglers for the use of specific smuggling routes.
“Also available reporting indicates that some Mexican drug trafficking organizations specialize in smuggling special interest aliens into the United States,” he added.
In his written testimony, Stana defines “special interest aliens” as those originating “from countries of special interest to the United States such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan.”  
Stana pointed out that in the past 10 years the GAO has issued three reports on alien smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border, adding that ICE’s efforts to investigate alien smuggling have remained “flat” over that period.
“Despite an increase use of smugglers and the potential for violence, ICE’s resource commitment remains static in this area,” Stana reiterated. 
Stana found “that some ICE investigators are performing duties not consistent with the primary mission of conducting criminal investigations.” 
In two of the ICE offices along the southwest border that the GAO visited, Stana said “ICE has been diverting staff to non-investigative tasks like responding to calls from state and local law enforcement agencies to transport and process apprehended aliens.”
The GAO also revealed that ICE needs to do more to target the lucrative amount of money generated by drug smuggling operations.
“Although alien smuggling activities generate illicit revenues of billions of dollars annually, the value of ICE alien smuggling assets seizures has never exceeded $18 million and decreased to about $7.6 million last year,” Stana told members of Congress during the hearing.
“ICE still has a long way to go towards stripping away the financial assets and infrastructure of alien smuggling operations,” added Stana.
Stana commended the efforts of Arizona’s attorney general in cracking down on the money generated by alien smuggling and suggested that ICE assess those efforts and seek “techniques that are appropriate for federal use.”
Furthermore, according to Stana, ICE needs to improve the way it gauges the effectiveness of its alien smuggling initiative.
“ICE and CBP [Customs and Border Protection agency] have not fully evaluated their alien smuggling program to see what’s working and what’s not and whether programs should be improved or eliminated, and clearly more needs to be done to address these issues.”
Stana noted that “ICE’s efforts have resulted in an overall increase in the number of arrests, indictments and convictions for alien smuggling offenses and increases in CBP resources at the border are obstructing some alien smuggling routes.”
However, he also said, “When we look at this in 1997, less than 10 percent of the people coming into the country used a smuggler. Now it’s a solid majority that are using a smuggler, maybe a vast majority.”
According to James Dinkins, ICE’s executive associate director of Homeland Security investigations, who also testified, there are 130 investigators, including CBP and ICE agents, along the entire approximately 2,000 mile southwest border.
“We can always use more investigators,” added Dinkins. 

ICE is the Department of Homeland Security's largest investigative agency.
On July 1, in a speech at American University in Washington, D.C., President Obama said, “Our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work.
“The southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years,” he added.
Obama’s Justice Department is suing Arizona, which the GAO said has been “particularly” affected by the rise in alien smuggling related violence, for its anti-illegal immigration law.