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Prolific Human Smuggler Extradited from Mexico to the United States

-Editorial

Extensive coordination and cooperation efforts between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities culminated in the extradition of a human smuggler, who allegedly operated in Mexicali on the U.S.-Mexico border for several years as part of an international human smuggling conspiracy.

In March, Ofelia Hernandez-Salas, 61, was arrested in Mexico pursuant to a U.S. request for her extradition and surrendered by Mexico to U.S. authorities on Sept. 5 to face charges previously filed in the District of Arizona and unsealed in March. She is scheduled to appear in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona.

“This extradition is the result of continued coordination between the Justice Department and our Mexican law enforcement partners to bring to justice human smugglers who exploit migrants’ desperation and undermine the rule of law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “It is another example of the impactful work Joint Task Force Alpha is doing to disrupt dangerous criminal operations and dismantle transnational criminal organizations by pursuing their leadership — wherever they operate.”

According to court documents, Hernandez-Salas allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants into the United States from and through Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Eritrea, India, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Hernandez-Salas and co-conspirator Raul Saucedo-Huipio, 48, allegedly charged the migrants as much as tens of thousands of dollars to make the journey and directed the migrants to unlawfully cross the border into the United States, including by providing them with a ladder to climb over the border fence.

Hernandez-Salas and co-conspirators also allegedly robbed the migrants of money and personal belongings while armed with guns and knives.

The indictments against Hernandez-Salas and Raul Saucedo-Huipio, and their subsequent arrests, were coordinated through Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). JTFA was created in June 2021 by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, in partnership with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, to strengthen the Justice Department’s efforts to combat the rise in prolific and dangerous smuggling emanating from Central America and impacting our border communities. JTFA’s goal is to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling and trafficking networks operating in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, with a focus on networks that endanger, abuse, or exploit migrants, present national security risks, or engage in other types of transnational organized crime.

“When international criminal organizations endanger economic migrants seeking a better life in America, an international response is required,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino for the District of Arizona. “JTFA’s partnership with Mexico holds managers and organizers accountable for the criminal activities of cross-border smugglers.”

“This extradition is another testament to our global commitment to investigating, combating, and dismantling human smuggling networks,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “HSI is dedicated to its law enforcement partnerships and mission, notably those accomplished through JTFA efforts, that seek to eradicate these crimes and bring those who propagate them to justice.”

HSI Yuma is investigating the case with assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service working in concert with HSI Tijuana, INTERPOL, and the HSI Human Smuggling Unit in Washington, D.C. HSI also received substantial assistance from CBP’s National Targeting Center/Counter Network Division and OFAC.

JTFA Co-Director James Hepburn and Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Jennis for the District of Arizona are prosecuting the case.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in securing the defendant’s arrest and extradition from Mexico. The Justice Department thanked its Mexican law enforcement partners, who were instrumental in arresting Hernandez-Salas, and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office and the Mexican Foreign Ministry for making the extradition possible.

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