U.S. Breaks Up Huge Latin Child-Smuggling Ring
August 12, 2002
By DAVID STOUT
New York Times
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 - Federal officials said today that
they had broken up a huge child-smuggling ring that preyed
upon the desire of desperate illegal immigrants in the
United States to be reunited with their children.
The ring smuggled hundreds of children, from toddlers to
teenagers, into the country from Guatemala, El Salvador and
Honduras at a cost of $5,000 each, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service said. The agency said its agents
arrested three suspected smugglers in Houston on Friday.
"It was a mean-spirited criminal enterprise, driven by
greed and criminal profit," Johnny Williams, head of field
operations for the immigration agency, said today.
It seems also to have been driven by the yearning of men
and women, already living the bare-bones, shadowy life of
illegal immigrants in the United States, to see their
children again. To be reunited with their sons and
daughters, the immigrants would scrape together $5,000 - a
veritable fortune from their perspective - for each child
that was to be brought in.
The children's journey was typically grueling and often
risky, immigration officials said. "When I hear about
children crying throughout the night, I know it wasn't a
pleasure trip," Mr. Williams told reporters.
Officials said the smugglers would take children from their
native countries to Mexico, then smuggle them into the
United States, passing them through Los Angeles before
sending them to various parts of the country.
The three arrested Friday were identified today as Ana
Karina Rivas, Juan Orlando DeLeon and Andrea Giron. Last
month the authorities arrested Berta Campos, reputed to be
a ring leader, in Los Angeles, and a suspected ring member,
Guillermo Antonio Paniaqua, in Houston.
The arrests were a follow-up to the those in April of 12
people in Guatemala, who were accompanying several dozen
children being transported from El Salvador into the United
Officials speculated at the time that increased law
enforcement along borders in recent years throughout the
region had made it more difficult and expensive for
undocumented immigrants living in the United States to
return to their home countries to retrieve their children
themselves. This could mean, they said, that more
undocumented parents in the United States are trusting
their children to strangers.
"We are extremely concerned about the fact that parents are
putting their children at risk," Bill Strassberger, a
spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
said after the arrests in April. "Human trafficking is a
major issue for the United States, and in children we are
looking at the most vulnerable victims. When adults get
involved with it, it is by choice. Children don't know the
danger they face."
Children have been found kept in squalid conditions in safe
houses while in the smugglers' care, officials have said.
The 49 children intercepted in April were sent back to
their home countries.
Officials said the smuggling suspects face up to 10 years
in prison and fines of $250,000 if they are convicted.