The Homeland Security Department said Tuesday it arrested 192 people along the Mexican border in South Texas on immigrant-smuggling charges and seized more than $625,000, part of the Obama administration's efforts to discourage and disrupt the flood of tens of thousands of people crossing the border illegally.
The arrests, which took place under a crackdown called "Operation Coyote," took place over the last month and were part of a 90-day effort targeting smuggling groups.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it also took into custody 501 immigrants in the country illegally. It said it seized the money from 228 bank accounts held by suspected human- and drug-smuggling groups. It's unclear what happened to the detained immigrants. Victims of crime and witnesses in criminal cases can be extended visas in certain cases. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said those not eligible for a visa or other protections would eventually be sent home.
“In addition to targeting the human smuggling organizations, we are targeting the money-laundering aspects,” said Aristides Jimenez, deputy special agent in charge of HSI in San Antonio, which also covers Del Rio and the Rio Grande Valley. “We have encountered in the last few months an increase in what we call funnel accounts.”
Those are bank accounts in which individuals, such as a relative of the immigrant, can make anonymous cash deposits in one state and an account holder, usually a smuggler in another state, can immediately withdraw the money.
The White House has complained that smugglers are exploiting U.S. policies that, in practice, allow Central American children to stay for years or indefinitely once they arrive, and it has proposed increasing penalties for smugglers.
Johnson said the crackdown on smugglers was another message to would-be immigrants that "our borders are not open to illegal immigration."
The Rio Grande Valley in South Texas is the Border Patrol's busiest spot along the Mexico border. Border agents have arrested more than 200,000 border crossers in the area some Oct. 1.
The majority of the more than 57,000 child immigrants caught crossing the border without their parents or a guardian have also been taken into custody in the area.
In another border smuggling case, investigators say two dozen suspects have been arrested in a North Texas human trafficking sting related to sex and juveniles.
The Denton County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday said two 17-year-olds were rescued last week. The arrests happened in Denton and The Colony.
Officials say more arrests are expected in the case involving juveniles forced into the sex industry. Sheriff Will Travis says operations will continue to protect children from sexual exploitation.
Names of the suspects and further details on charges weren't immediately released.
U.S. Homeland Security worked with local law enforcement departments on the cases.
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