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Accused ‘Prolific Human Smuggler’ from Mexico to Face Charges in U.S.

A section of the border fence separating San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock
A section of the border fence separating San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

By: Brett Rowland | The Center Square

A woman accused by federal authorities of being a "prolific human smuggler" has been extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges for allegedly operating in Mexicali on the U.S.-Mexico border for several years as part of an international human smuggling conspiracy.

In March, Ofelia Hernandez-Salas, 61, was arrested in Mexico after a U.S. request for her extradition and surrendered by Mexico to U.S. authorities on Sept. 5 to face charges previously filed in the District of Arizona and unsealed in March.

She pleaded not guilty to all pending charges in Phoenix, Arizona on Wednesday, according to court records.

Hernandez-Salas allegedly conspired with other smugglers to facilitate the travel of large numbers of migrants into the United States from Bangladesh, Yemen, Pakistan, Eritrea, India, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Russia, Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, according to court documents. Hernandez-Salas and co-conspirator Raul Saucedo-Huipio, 48, allegedly charged the migrants tens of thousands of dollars to make the journey and directed the migrants where to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border, including by providing them with a ladder to climb over the border fence.

Hernandez-Salas and co-conspirators also allegedly robbed the migrants of money and personal belongings while armed with guns and knives.

"This extradition is the result of continued coordination between the Justice Department and our Mexican law enforcement partners to bring to justice human smugglers who exploit migrants' desperation and undermine the rule of law," Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole Argentieri of the Justice Department's Criminal Division said in a statement. "It is another example of the impactful work Joint Task Force Alpha is doing to disrupt dangerous criminal operations and dismantle transnational criminal organizations by pursuing their leadership – wherever they operate."

In June, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed corresponding sanctions on the Hernandez-Salas transnational criminal organization.

Saucedo-Huipio remains in custody in Mexico.

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