The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security on Tuesday announced the arrest and indictment of eight people connected to an operation that illegally moved hundreds of people illegally across the southern U.S. border.
The operation led by Joint Task Force Alpha produced the arrest of Erminia Serrano Piedra, also known as "Boss Lady," and seven others who are thought to be contributing to the wave of illegal immigration into the U.S.
The announcement came just a day after Vice President Kamala Harris said the southern border is "secure."
In a Tuesday press conference, officials said the eight who are facing charges conspired to illegally transport and shield hundreds of migrants in "dehumanizing" conditions where the threat of serious harm and death was "ever-present," for a profit of nearly $2.3 million.
"This human smuggling organization operated on an enormous scale, placing a high value on financial profit, while putting migrants’ lives at great risk," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a statement.
Officials said these transitional criminal organizations are a "giant, multibillion-dollar piece of a sprawling puzzle connecting drug trafficking and criminal activity" along southern border and have become "intertwined" with the cartels.
According to the indictment, the smugglers used drivers to pick up migrants near the U.S.-Mexico border and transport them into the United States. Drivers allegedly transported migrants in suitcases, repurposed water tankers and wooded crates strapped to flatbed trailers.
Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John K. Tien claimed countering human smuggling is "a central plank" of DHS’s efforts "to address irregular migration across the western hemisphere." Tien claimed that since April 2022, DHS has worked with the task force to "bolster" their efforts to fight criminal smugglers "at every point in their infrastructure."
Since Joint Task Force Alpha was launched in June 2021, there have been over 100 arrests of "leaders, organizers and significant facilitators of human smuggling activities, several dozen convictions, significant prison sentences and substantial asset forfeiture," according to the Department of Justice.