Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

How Venezuelan gang members are slipping into the U.S.

By 37ci3 Jun12,2024


US law enforcement and immigration officials have opened more than 100 investigations into crimes involving suspected members of a violent Venezuelan gang, including sex trafficking in Louisiana and the apparent shootings of two New York police officers, according to two Department of Homeland Security reports. officers.

The Tren de Aragua case shows how difficult it is to conduct criminal background checks on US border agents. Migrants from countries like Venezuela it will not help the US at all.

More than 330,000 Venezuelans crossed the U.S. border last year, according to Customs and Border Protection, and Venezuela, like Cuba, China and several other countries, does not provide any criminal history information to U.S. officials.

In the June 3 New York shooting in which both police officers survived, the alleged shooter was confronted by the US Border Patrol after crossing into Texas illegally, according to New York police. He was later released to the United States to await an asylum hearing. It is unclear whether his affiliation with Tren de Aragua was known to Venezuelan authorities. Even so, this information would not have reached the Border Patrol.

Ammon Blair, a former Border Patrol agent, says there are limits to what the federal government can know about a migrant's criminal history.
Ammon Blair, a former Border Patrol agent, says there are limits to what the federal government can know about a migrant’s criminal history.NBC News

Unless agents get a Venezuelan migrant’s criminal history from Interpol or “they already have a criminal record in the United States, we won’t know who they are,” former Border Patrol agent Ammon Blair told NBC News.

The NYPD calls them “ghost criminals,” with little to identify them other than their gang tattoos.

“Their identity may be misrepresented; their date of birth may be misrepresented,” said NYPD Assistant Chief of Detectives Jason Savino. “Everything about this person could potentially be misrepresented.”

The rise of Venezuelans

During the Trump administration, border officials have encountered nearly 3 million undocumented people crossing into the United States. Although a breakdown by country of origin was not available for those years, migrants tended to come from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico. share law enforcement information with the United States

During The Biden administrationThe number of people trying to enter the United States has increased to 10 million, and the composition of the migrant flow has changed.

Nearly 800,000 Venezuelans have attempted to cross since 2021, rising from about 50,500 in fiscal year 2021 to 334,900 in fiscal year 2023. This influx has created a unique challenge for the Biden administration.

Not only does Venezuela not share law enforcement information, it has largely refused to take its citizens back on deportation flights. Some Venezuelans may be removed from the US by land – under a 2023 deal, Mexico agreed to take back up to 30,000 migrants each month from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba. But in some months, the number of migrants passing through those countries exceeded 30,000.

Last fall Venezuelans Most of the newcomers to Chicago, New York and Denver have raised concerns among Democratic mayors with the Biden administration about who is entering their cities and how they can support themselves without draining local resources.

According to local law enforcement, some of the incoming migrants were linked to Tren de Aragua, and the gang has begun to surface in criminal investigations in at least five states. Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, the law enforcement arm of DHS, told NBC News that there are currently more than 100 ongoing investigations into alleged members of the Tren de Aragua.

Tattoos on the neck of a man arrested by US Border Patrol in May.  The man is said to be associated with the Tren de Aragua gang based in Venezuela.
Tattoos on the neck of a man arrested by US Border Patrol in May. The man is said to be associated with the Tren de Aragua gang based in Venezuela.US Border Patrol

Last month, HSI busted a sex-trafficking scheme in Louisiana where gang members forced Venezuelan migrant women into sex work to pay off smugglers who brought them into the United States.

In a federal statement, two of the women describe how they were trafficked by three alleged gang members who entered the United States within the past year. All three suspects were apprehended by the Border Patrol after entering Texas illegally, but were later released into the United States.

According to the women, gang members arranged for them to fly from El Paso, Texas, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once in Baton Rouge, the women were taken to Ross Retail Clothing Store to purchase clothing. They were then taken to an apartment building where they were allegedly forced to have sex with four men a day.

The women say they were told their families in Venezuela would be killed if they went to the authorities. One woman told HSI investigators that she believed gang leaders had already killed her mother, based on conversations with relatives at home.

One of the victims alleged that the ringleader of the operation conducted similar operations involving 30 women at homes in five states, according to a criminal complaint.

Three suspected gang members are in federal custody and charged with sex trafficking.

Local law enforcement in Indiana is investigating a similar sex-trafficking ring suspected to be linked to Tren de Aragua.

In January, Interpol released an intelligence report warning member countries about what it called a “major regional security threat” across Latin America, a group that is using recent migration flows to expand its reach for criminal activities.

“Although the group is well-established in many countries in South America,” an Interpol spokesman said, “there is now evidence of its expansion northward to Mexico and the United States, where key Tren de Aragua members have already been identified.”

How migrants are checked at the border

When a Border Patrol agent encounters a migrant at the border, the agent asks the migrant for any identifying information, such as a birth certificate or passport.

The agent checks any information submitted against criminal databases collected from US agencies and foreign countries.

Blair said it can be difficult to verify identity. “Sometimes smugglers will force you to throw away your documents [so] they can announce a fake name or fake citizenship.

If a criminal history is found, the agent can put the migrant on a fast track for deportation.

Misdemeanors such as drunk driving may not always result in expungement. But serious crimes like rape or assault bring appeals for prosecution or speedy removal.

A man arrested by the Tren de Aragua Border Guard.  Sometimes, law enforcement agencies have very little information about a suspect's true identity, except for gang tattoos.
A man arrested by the Tren de Aragua Border Guard. Sometimes there is little information about a suspect’s true identity except for gang tattoos from law enforcement. US Border Patrol

A DHS spokesperson said in a statement: “DHS screens and vets individuals before they enter the United States. “If an individual poses a threat to national security or public safety, we refuse to admit, detain, remove, or refer them to other federal agencies for further investigation, investigation, and/or prosecution as appropriate.”

Despite the lack of cooperation from countries such as Venezuela, the spokesman said, the agency can examine other available sources of information about criminal behavior, including information provided by law enforcement agencies in countries migrants may pass through on their way to the United States.

A senior DHS official said CBP’s ability to screen migrants has improved over the past five years as the agency reached more agreements with other countries to share law enforcement information and increased resources for border screening.

Officials in the Biden administration say they have removed 4 million migrants so far, more than twice the number deported under former President Donald Trump, as they have increased and improved their vetting. The Biden administration prioritizes criminals and other public safety threats for deportation, but it’s unclear how many of those deported have criminal records.

An NBC News review of public CBP data found that more migrants with identifiable criminal records tried to cross the border under Biden than under Trump, who tracked more border crossings. However, the percentage of known criminals has changed little. About 64,000 migrants stopped under Trump’s administration, or about 2%, were found to have a criminal record. During Biden’s tenure, about 103,000 immigrants have been found to have criminal records so far, or just over 1%.

However, there is little hard data on how many crimes migrants commit once they are in the United States. Despite the political rhetoric and high-profile examples of crime linked to Tren de, the data out there do not point to a wave of migrant crime. Aragua. Criminologists have consistently found that immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans.

Ari Jimenez, now a public safety consultant, investigated migrant crime in his former job at HSI. Jimenez said that while he sees the flow of migrants at the southern border as an ongoing national security crisis, he is also concerned about what the actions of a dangerous few could mean for other migrants.

“Ninety-nine percent of people arriving at the border have a legitimate reason to seek asylum,” he said. “I don’t want a black eye for migrants trying to make a living because of the 1 percent.”



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