The Biden administration is targeting human trafficking cartels in the Darién Gap
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The Biden administration is targeting human trafficking cartels in the Darién Gap

Migrants planning to begin crossing the Darien Gap from Colombia to Panama on foot in hopes of reaching the United States gather at a trailhead camp in Acandi, Colombia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. The photo was part of a series by Associated Press photographers Ivana Valencia, Eduardo Verdugo, Felix Marquez, Marco Ugarte Fernando Llano, Eric Gay, Gregory Bull and Christian Chavez, who won the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Cinematography. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

HIDALGO, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration is increasing efforts to stop human trafficking through the remote Darién Gap in Colombia and Panama and offering rewards for information on cartel leaders.

During a call with reporters on Tuesday, senior officials from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State said the remote jungles of the Darién Pass will now be a target zone aimed at stopping migrant smuggling north in an operation known as Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA).


This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week that significantly limits the number of asylum applications at the southwest border.

The border report asks how this new extension of the JTFA will be linked to the new asylum policy at the border and what are the expectations for its outcome.

“Joint Task Force Alpha is focused on the law at the organizational level of the enterprise – eliminating, targeting and eliminating the leadership of these networks and organizations,” said a senior Justice Department official. “We certainly hope that this policy and the new rules will have a much greater impact and reduce the number of people traveling to and then through the border.”

To this end, a senior official said, “We will target the highest levels of these organizations.”

Joint Task Force Alpha is celebrating its third anniversary and is focused on eradicating cartels and criminal organizations in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Now it adds Panama and Colombia to the list.

Haitian migrants cross the Tuquesa River after trekking through the Darien Gap in Bajo Chiquito, Panama, October 4, 2023. (AP File Photo/Arnulfo Franco, File)

Officials said that since its inception, the operation has resulted in more than 300 domestic and international arrests and more than 240 convictions in the United States.

“We are using every tool at our disposal to dismantle and dismantle the human smuggling networks that spread misery across the Western Hemisphere,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, we are expanding our law enforcement efforts across the Darién – one of the most dangerous migrant crossings on Earth – and implementing bounty programs like those that have brought down drug kingpins to pursue people smugglers. To those who smuggle people across the Darién River, know this: the full force of the U.S. government is coming for you.”

The Department of State is also offering an $8 million reward for information leading to an arrest and/or conviction, as well as financial disruption of the Clan del Golfo cartel, a Colombian cartel that is a major criminal organization smuggling migrants across the 1960s miles of the Darién Gap. The awards are offered under the agency’s transnational organized crime awards program.

Prizes are offered for:

  • Up to $2 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key leader of the del Golfo clan involved in human smuggling in Darién.
  • Up to $1 million for information leading to the disruption of the del Golfo clan’s financial mechanisms aimed at financing, maintaining or supporting human smuggling operations in Darién.
  • Up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of any key leader of the del Golfo clan involved in human smuggling into Darién by encouraging and inducing foreign nationals to enter the United States, resulting in death

Information obtained in response to a reward offer may be shared with Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection by calling toll-free at (866) 347-2423 or online at www.ice.gov/tips.

On Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee will meet and consider legislation that would strengthen law enforcement efforts with foreign partners to combat human smuggling and drug trafficking through the Combating International Drug Trafficking and Human Smuggling Partnership Act of 2024.

Since the order was issued, the number of migrant encounters in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley has been relatively low – only about 200 per day.

On Tuesday, the Rev. Abraham Barberi, who runs a church in Matamoros, Mexico, and helps migrants south of the border, said fewer than 50 migrants were living in a camp on the Rio Grande that once housed hundreds.

He said several hundred migrants were being held at a renovated hospital further inland in Matamoros, guarded by Mexican police and sponsored by Catholic officials and the Mexican government.

He said most migrants are not currently waiting in border towns in Tamaulipas, Mexico, but traveling to large cities like Monterrey, Mexico, where they wait for an asylum interview through the CBP One app. About 1,500 calls are made daily at U.S. ports of entry, including several in South Texas.

“With CBP One, people chose to wait and not cross the river,” Barberi told Border Report. “Some families were seen getting desperate and crossing the river with their children. And before this order, you would have seen them. Now we tell them, “Don’t do it, you might get in trouble.”

Under Biden’s proclamation, migrants who enter illegally face a five-year ban from re-entering the United States.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at [email protected].