US announces sanctions on Mexican migrant-trafficking gang

FILE - Central American migrants walk in the late afternoon as they leave Mexicali, Mexico, Nov. 20, 2018, on their way to Tijuana. The U.S. Treasury on June 16, 2023 announced sanctions on the Mexico-based migrant-trafficking gang known as the Hernandez Salas organization, based in Mexicali, that supplied asylum seekers with false papers to game the process since at least 2018, according to the Treasury Department. The gang then smuggled the migrants into the U.S. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File) (Rodrigo Abd, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MEXICO CITY – The United States Treasury on Friday announced sanctions on a Mexico-based migrant-trafficking gang that supplied asylum seekers with false papers to game the process.

Known as the Hernandez Salas organization, the gang is based in the border city of Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, California.

Since at least 2018, the gang organized travel by migrants from “countries posing national security concerns,” the Treasury statement said, though it did not specify what countries those were.

However, the department did say the gang smuggled migrants into the United States from Russia, Eritrea, Yemen and Iran, among others.

The Treasury said in a statement that the criminal scheme hurts those who really need asylum protection.

“The practice of human smuggling and the facilitation of fraudulent documentation undermines the U.S. asylum system,” the statement said, “damaging public confidence in the vetting process and jeopardizing access to protection for vulnerable persons fleeing conflict, famine, and persecution.”

The gang is allegedly run by a woman, Ofelia Hernández Salas, with links to the Sinaloa drug cartel. The sanctions also applied to four associates and two hotels used to house migrants. Hernández Salas is under arrest in Mexico and is awaiting extradition to face U.S. charges.

The department said the gang charged migrants between $10,000 and $70,000 for package deals of travel to Mexico, fake documents and smuggling fees to enter the United States.

The sanctions imposed by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) freeze assets of the companies and people in the United States. They also prohibit U.S. citizens and businesses from any transactions with the targeted entities.