Congress Aims To Boost Border Security's Criminal Unit Amid Surge in Illegal Immigration

(Getty Images)
May 20, 2022

A group of House lawmakers is moving to boost resources for the Department of Homeland Security's criminal investigations unit, which has been strained amid a historic rise in illegal border crossings.

DHS confirmed to the lawmakers that "hundreds of thousands of known 'gotaways' evaded Border Patrol last year and those numbers are only increasing," according to Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R., N.Y.). The congressman and eight other colleagues are spearheading legislation to fund the department's Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIU), which are on the front lines of stopping violent illegal immigrants affiliated with MS-13 and other gangs from trafficking drugs and other illicit materials across the border. Unit authorities are deployed in 13 countries across the globe, including South and Central America, but have faced staffing shortages as the U.S. southern border spins out of control.

"By strengthening the ranks of TCIUs, we can take on these criminal organizations at the source and head off transnational criminals before they reach our border," Garbarino said.

The bill would give DHS $2 million each fiscal year to provide stipends and payments to the criminal unit's workforce. Garbarino and his colleagues say the unit's investigative and enforcement efforts are more critical than ever as illegal immigrants, including known gang members and drug traffickers, pour over the border. The legislation comes just days after a known MS-13 gang member in Long Island, N.Y., pleaded guilty to murder, one of several such prosecutions that have come amid the border crisis.

The bill is likely to receive bipartisan support as lawmakers try to address the rise in crime resulting from the border crisis.

"My constituents are all too familiar with the damage that transnational criminal organizations can do," Garbarino said. "Border Patrol is being overwhelmed by the record-breaking number of migrants attempting to cross our border, which has allowed violent transnational criminal organizations like MS-13 to slip through the cracks and infiltrate our country."

DHS's criminal unit based in El Salvador is specifically tasked with going after MS-13 members, and its division in Mexico City has successfully seized large amounts of methamphetamine as well as fentanyl smuggled from China into the United States.

During the 2021 fiscal year, the Transnational Criminal Unit conducted 2,574 arrests, seized nearly $10 million in currency, and intercepted 246,100 pounds of cocaine, 6,893 pounds of marijuana, 346 pounds of fentanyl products, and another 58,883 pounds of other drugs, according to figures released by the lawmakers.

In addition to the drugs, the investigative unit intercepted 561 weapons, 17,418 rounds of ammunition, 9 aircraft, 70 vehicles, 2 crime-related vessels, more than $22 million in counterfeit goods, and more than $11 million in real estate associated with criminal cartels.

Without additional funding, these efforts will slow, resulting in more drugs and crime stateside, the lawmakers say.

"Our frontline border law enforcement are being crushed under the dangerous impacts of the Biden administration's reckless border security policies which are resulting in an increase in retirements and resignations," Rep. John Katko (R., N.Y.), ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee and an initial sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. "The mission of HSI's Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit is critical to the stability of our homeland security and the fight to slow the amount of drugs pouring across the border, particularly as we see [transnational criminal groups] exploiting the administration's weak border policies for their gain."