Guatemala’s Head of Passports Arrested for Human Smuggling

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The head of passports in Guatemala’s Department of Immigration has been arrested on people smuggling charges, highlighting Guatemala’s role as a hub of illegal immigration and false documents.

Jose Alberto de Leon Gramajo was arrested by prosecutors from the specialist anti-impunity unit of the Public Ministry and accused of illegal movement of people and conspiracy, reported EFE.

In connection with the case, authorities also arrested Jose Antonio Samayoa Cano, the former manager of the company responsible for issuing passports. Samayoa faces the same charges as de Leon, plus an additional charge of false representation.

The investigation into the pair began after authorities detained two Colombians trying to reach the Netherlands with false passports in La Aurora airport in Guatemala City in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The Colombians revealed how they obtained the passports, which involved arranging for the documents before leaving for Guatemala. Authorities then traced the illegal documents back to the pair after reviewing testimonies, systems data, and surveillance camera footage.

InSight Crime Analysis

The existence of people smuggling networks that provide false documentation in Guatemala is not a new phenomenon. The case of an Indian man arrested in 2010 with 31 Guatemalan passports highlighted how the country serves as a hub for south Asians seeking a way into the United States or Europe. This fueled a jump in illegal immigration from India, with more than 650 Indians detained in Texas alone in 2010, compared to just 99 along the southwest border the year before.

This latest case stems from the same period, and may have involved the same network. Either way it shows how networks controlling the trade were not limited to exploiting migrants from the subcontinent but also reached deep into Latin America.

The roles of the two men arrested highlight how official corruption facilitates the trade. By far and away the most effective and efficient way of obtaining false documents is through corrupt officials with access to originals.

The false document trade in Guatemala is also a legacy of the Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatus or CIACS, as they have been dubbed — criminal and political networks established by corrupt members of the state security forces. A hangover from Guatemala’s civil war, the CIACS are for the most part disbanded, but the remnants are still involved in the market for false passports as well as drug trafficking, illegal adoptions, and contraband.


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