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Number of migrants crossing borders falls, in part as US agents help smugglers in Latin America

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According to an internal briefing, the number of arrests of undocumented migrants crossing the US southern border has fallen nearly 14 percent from a record high in May. material obtained by NBC News.

Customs and Border Patrol agents, as well as Immigration and Customs Internal Security Investigations, some in Central American countries, were responsible for the arrests of an average of 240 smugglers in a single week in June, according to materials prepared by the Department of State. Homeland Security for a White House briefing.

Agents working outside the US provide information to local law enforcement about smugglers to be the target of arrests, according to the document.

More than 1,300 DHS employees target smugglers, and the agency has spent more than $50 million on the effort since April, a DHS spokesperson said.

The number of arrests of smugglers in Central and Latin American countries rose in June, and the number of undocumented migrants crossing the US-Mexico border began to fall from the May high of more than 7,700 daily detentions.

By the end of June, the number had fallen by 14 percent and has remained relatively stable. In the first two weeks of July, the average number of undocumented migrants stopped every day at the southern land border was 6,800, according to preliminary figures shared internally by CBP and obtained by NBC News.

Seasonal trends are also responsible for the decline, as in most years fewer migrants make the journey during the hot summer months. But in the summers of 2018, 2020 and 2021, the monthly numbers actually increased. And while the first months of 2022 saw record levels of border traffic, the number of border crossings in July is on track to fall below those of the same month last year.

People smugglers, also known as coyotes, are often linked to drug cartels, charging migrants thousands of dollars to be transported to the US on dangerous journeys with some being kidnapped, assaulted or left for dead. Smuggling networks are so widespread in the region that it is extremely rare for an undocumented migrant to cross the southern US border on foot without the help of a smuggler.

In the briefing material, DHS estimated that for every smuggler stopped, 24 migrants were stopped or delayed crossing the border. DHS has credited the arrests of smugglers with stopping as many as 1,329 migrants a day.

The Biden administration boasted of its increased partnership and coordination with governments and law enforcement agencies in Mexico, as well as in Central and South America. But the extent of the role US immigration agents play in the arrest of smugglers outside the US has remained largely hidden.

The briefing material shows that for a week at the end of June, CBP agents were responsible for the arrests of 166 smugglers and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations agents were responsible for 74 arrests outside the US. .

Sergio Gonzales, the executive director of The Immigration Hub, which advocates for progressive immigration policies, said US voters largely support the arrests of human traffickers, but warned the Biden administration needs to do more to provide safe, legal routes for asylum seekers. to open. .

“These are really bad actors preying on people in really desperate and difficult situations,” Gonzales said of people smugglers. “But you can’t just clear paths for people to seek safety.”

Gonzales also said the details of how ICE and CBP operate in the region are important because of the “problematic history of US law enforcement in Latin America that has caused major problems in the region”.

The degree of involvement of U.S. immigration officers with law enforcement officers physically making the arrests is unclear, but the evidence suggests that U.S. agents keep track of exactly which arrests they help facilitate.

White House and DHS spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.

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