A 61-year-old woman, Ofelia Hernandez-Salas, has been extradited to the United States to face charges of smuggling people from countries including Uzbekistan and Bangladesh. U.S. authorities allege that Hernandez-Salas headed a transnational smuggling network responsible for illegally bringing thousands of individuals into the U.S.
According to a federal indictment filed in Arizona, Hernandez-Salas would pick up migrants at a bus station in Mexicali, northern Mexico, and guide them to the U.S. border. She allegedly provided them with assistance to cross the border illegally, such as ladders to climb over the border fence, directions to holes under the fence, and plans to navigate waterways.
Hernandez-Salas, an outlier in the predominantly male and teenage smuggler demographic, is accused of helping at least 13 migrants cross the border in May 2020 alone. Prosecutors also claim that she and her co-conspirator, Raul Saucedo-Huipio, robbed migrants of their belongings at gunpoint.
The extradition of Hernandez-Salas is the result of collaboration between the U.S. Justice Department and Mexican law enforcement. The indictment against her was filed in 2021 and unsealed in March, leading to her arrest in Mexico. Saucedo-Huipio remains in custody in Mexico.
While most migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border come from Central and South American countries, there has been an increase in individuals from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Many migrants pay smugglers to facilitate their journey, including crossing the dangerous Darién Gap jungle between Colombia and Panama.
The U.S. is deporting a growing number of migrants from various countries, including Russia and Bangladesh, in an effort to address the influx of individuals seeking refuge in the country.