Guatemalan authorities on Wednesday captured six men and one woman suspected of smuggling migrants to the United States, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
The arrests were made during law enforcement operations in the western province of Quetzaltenango, Alex Colop told reporters.
With assistance from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, security forces captured seven people who were linked with the smuggling of unaccompanied minors to the United States, the prosecutor said.
The network had pocketed $3 million for taking people illegally to the United States, according to Guatemala’s interior minister, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla.
However, seven other people comprising the organization have yet to be arrested, he told the media.
The prosecutor said the preliminary investigation managed to establish that the group contacted Guatemalan families offering to take their children to the United States.
The children and teenagers initially were taken to Quetzaltenango, where they were kept in a hotel while the first payment for their journey was made.
Then, the youngsters were transferred to the town of La Mesilla, near the border with Mexico, where they were turned over to other “coyotes” - as the smugglers are known - who were tasked with taking them to the United States.
This is the first large-scale operation to be conducted by Guatemalan security forces against the coyotes, who make up to 50,000 quetzales ($6,400) a head for taking undocumented minors to the United States.
President Otto Perez Molina has repeatedly urged Guatemalan parents not to send their children to the United States because of the risks associated with the journey.
Some 14,000 Guatemalan children and teens have been detained on the U.S. southern border in recent months.
The increase in the illegal migration of unaccompanied minors coming mainly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, has been called a humanitarian crisis by U.S. President Barack Obama.