The Treasury Department slapped sanctions Wednesday on a Syrian man and his criminal syndicate, blaming them for smuggling “hundreds” of illegal immigrants from Syria and Lebanon into Mexico and then helping them to jump the border into the U.S.
Nasif Barakat and his syndicate, which authorities labeled the Barakat Transnational Criminal Organization, charged about $20,000 to complete the smuggling. The money paid for bribes and for fake documents, including false European passports, to help illegal immigrants hide their identities. The fees also covered transportation from Syria through other Middle Eastern countries to South and Central America, the journey north through Mexico, and final help sneaking into the U.S.
Authorities said the sanctions will freeze the syndicate’s assets, which should undermine the smuggling operation.
The case has been pursued by the Treasury Department, Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
“The day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump sent me an Executive Order to dismantle transnational criminal organizations,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Many of these organizations use human smugglers to bring people across our borders with little regard to their safety or our national sovereignty.”
Mr. Barakat, who also goes by the name Abu Tarif and lists two dates of birth in 1970 and 1971, was based in Homs.
The Treasury Department said his network would recruit customers from Syria and Lebanon, send them through either Turkey or the United Arab Emirates, where they would catch flights to Brazil, then make their way north through Venezuela, Colombia and Panama, then up through Central America and Mexico.
That turns out to be a common route for people being smuggled from terrorist-connected countries.
The Washington Times has reported over the last two years on a network operated by Sharafat Khan, a citizen of Pakistan who moved to Brazil, where he ran a human smuggling operation that specialized in bringing people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh into the U.S. through the same routes.
Khan, who pleaded guilty last year but is appealing his sentence, charged up to $15,000 for his customers.