Human smuggling ring that hid migrants in suitcases and wooden crates dismantled

Eight traffickers were arrested. The criminal organization obtained more than two million dollars.

Eight alleged members of a human smuggling ring were arrested in Texas and in several cities in the southern part of the country. The defendants transported the immigrants across the border from Mexico in inhumane conditions, stuffed in suitcases, wooden crates and pickup trucks, said Kenneth Polite, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Criminal Division, on Tuesday. During the searches, authorities found 12 immigrants in the city of Laredo, including two minors.

Erminia Serrano Piedra, aka Irma, who is one of the alleged ringleaders, was among the eight who were detained. Most of those arrested are U.S. nationals, with the exception of one who is Mexican and another who has dual U.S.-Peruvian citizenship. The smugglers charged $2,500 to transport the migrants.

"This organization was motivated by personal greed, and Piedra and her co-conspirators prioritized that greed over the safety of those that they illegally smuggled. As alleged in the indictment, Piedra’s organization transported people in suitcases, repurposed water tanks, and wooden crates on flatbed trucks. They packed people in dangerous, tight spaces, with limited ventilation in high temperatures, risking people’s lives and safety for money," Polite explained.

In addition to the individual criminal exposure of the defendants, the authorities intend to confiscate money from the alleged ringleader and two of her allies totaling more than $2 million." The government is seeking to forfeit these defendants’ ill-gotten gains, which includes noticing the criminal forfeiture of three properties in the Austin area which were purchased with the proceeds from illegal smuggling activity or used to facilitate the organization’s criminal activity,” details the statement from the public prosecutor.

Joint Task Force Alpha

The operation was carried out by Joint Task Force Alpha, created in June 2021 to combat the growing number of smuggled migrants. Since its implementation, around 120 people have been arrested, 50 of whom have been convicted.

"The message to human traffickers must be very clear: they will not be allowed to operate with impunity," the prosecutor said.