- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2001

Federal authorities yesterday arrested 75 suspected alien smugglers in what the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service described as the largest multinational operation in the agency's history.
"We're talking about a great partnership in the Americas of going after people who try to make a profit and benefit in other ways from human misery and desperation," said acting INS Commissioner Kevin Rooney, noting that the operation was the latest in a series of anti-smuggling initiatives taken by INS over the past five years.
"When nations work together, we can achieve remarkable results in combating multibillion-dollar alien smuggling operations," he said.
Dubbed "Operation Crossroads," the undercover investigation involved INS agents and law enforcement officers from Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti and Jamaica.
The operation, which took place during the first three weeks of June, also resulted in the seizure of $9 million worth of illicit drugs. Seven of the suspected smugglers were described as U.S. citizens.
Mr. Rooney said at an afternoon press conference the 75 suspected smugglers were involved in the transportation of nearly 8,000 illegal migrants into this country. He said they also were responsible for providing fraudulent documents as well as smuggling drugs into the United States.
He told reporters the undercover operation targeted alien smuggling rings in South America and the Caribbean. More than half of the 7,891 illegal immigrants were caught at the Mexican border, which was used by smugglers as a port of entry to the United States. The undercover operation was the ninth anti-smuggling investigation the INS has conducted in the past five years.
Hipolito Acosta, the INS Mexico City director who oversaw the undercover investigation, described the operation as the "largest, most successful" of its kind.
"One of the greatest satisfactions that I get with this kind of international cooperation is that we are targeting those smugglers who prey on individuals who seek a better way of life," Mr. Acosta told reporters. "Smugglers take advantage of these individuals; their only interest is to make money."
As an undercover INS agent, Mr. Acosta said he had witnessed the hardships, beatings and rapes to which illegal immigrants were subject in their trips to the United States. He cited the recent death of 14 illegal immigrants in the Arizona desert, as well as cases in which migrants died of heat in overcrowded trailers or drowned while trying to reach the United States.
"We encourage legal migration to the U.S.," he said. "But most importantly, we want to make sure that migrants are aware of the risks they take from the moment they leave their homes until they get to the United States."
Of those arrested in the undercover operation, more than 5,500 have been returned to their countries of origin, the INS said.
Mr. Rooney and Mr. Acosta told reporters that without the cooperation of several South American governments, Operation Crossroads which cost the government about $620,000 would have cost U.S. taxpayers $30 million in lengthy and complex deportation procedures.
The acting INS commissioner said his agency intends to increase financial resources and manpower to border safety. He said he expected further arrests of suspected alien smugglers across South America.
Last year, INS announced a large-scale crackdown on migrant smuggling, describing migrant smugglers as "ruthless and unscrupulous."

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