Agents will be “side-by-side” with local Guatemalan authorities, deployed to locations where US law enforcement has not traditionally operated, according to a senior DHS official.
This is a unique surge of DHS personnel to Guatemala, with a “significant increase” in US law enforcement presence in the country, said acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
The deployment of DHS officers follows an agreement signed earlier this week between the US and Guatemalan governments. It comes as the administration is trying to find a way to stem the influx of migrant families, mostly from Central America, through Mexico to the US.
The number of migrants illegally crossing the the southern US border has been on a steady upswing, resulting in dangerous overcrowding in US holding facilities at the border. The month of May is on pace to have the highest number of border crossings in over 12 years, according to McAleenan.
“We’ve invested in a continuing presence in Central America for several years now. What’s different about this agreement is the direct operational partnership” with the government of Guatemala, McAleenan said while in the country for a wide-ranging visit that included signing the memorandum of cooperation to implement the program.
In addition to US Border Patrol agents, personnel from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and Enforcement and Removal Operations divisions will deploy, according to a DHS official based in the region.
Early Wednesday morning, Homeland Security Investigations agents participated in a raid led by the Guatemalan police to take down an alleged criminal organization, in what was considered the first cooperative operation carried out after the agreement was signed. Similar operations have taken place in the past, but “never with this kind of support” from US and local governments, said a DHS official.
The official described the increase in law enforcement support as one “piece” of the effort to address illegal migration and security issues, which also includes nongovernmental organizations and other support.
“There’s not one solution to this whole problem,” said the official. “We’re improving the security side of the house.”
US Border Patrol agents will assist with training on port-of-entry operations as well as internal checkpoints within Guatemala. Other US investigators will help with anti-human-smuggling efforts, such as determining how organizations are profiting from smuggling and how they are moving money, according to the senior official.
Agents will be deployed to Guatemala from both the southern and northern US borders, confirmed McAleenan.
Timing and details on how many agents would be deployed were not immediately available.
DHS personnel are already spread thin. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol, has ongoing struggles with attrition in its workforce and has already shifted resources to deal with the swell of migrants at the US-Mexico border. In addition, DHS has called on volunteers from throughout the department to assist in the border mission. More than 200 employees have already volunteered to go to the border.
When asked about diverting resources when Border Patrol is already short-staffed, McAleenan said, “We’re going to try and interdict this flow where it starts.”
He added that it is being done in an effort to increase the capacity of international partners and “address threats at the earliest possible point.”
Another DHS official told CNN that resistance to giving up personnel for the international mission could be expected, but it’s worth it because agents will serve as a “force multiplier.”