A network of identity traffickers in Honduras may have sold forged documents to hundreds of immigrants from other continents, taking advantage of the fact that Latin America is increasingly being used as a route for trafficking people to the United States.

Two governmental agencies in Honduras, the Special Prosecutor for Transparency and the Fight Against Public Corruption (Fiscalía Especial para la Transparencia y Combate a la Corrupción Pública – FETCCOP) and the Technical Agency for Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC), arrested two people who were part of a network that operated within the National Registry of Persons (Registro Nacional de Personas – RNP).

The arrests took place as part of Operation Dragon IV, aimed at tackling a series of crimes across the country.

One of the individuals apprehended was Jorge Adalberto Discua Mejía, a former RNP employee from the city of Siguatepeque in Comayagua department. According to news outlet Proceso, at least 100 Palestinian and Syrian citizens had been entered into Siguatepeque’s municipal registry in an irregular manner and had paid “large sums of money” to obtain their Honduran identity cards.

Authorities also arrested Víctor Antonio Andrade, who worked at the RNP in La Ceiba, in the department of Atlántida. La Prensa reported that Andrade used information from death certificates to create false birth certificates and then sold them to immigrants.

Honduran authorities began noticing anomalies in the RNP in November 2017, according to Proceso. The irregularities led them to suspect that a network of registry employees was falsifying identification documents.

The investigations revealed that the birth certificates of deceased Honduran citizens and of those who did not claim their IDs were being used by immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East to obtain Honduran passports. During Operation Dragon IV, authorities conducted inspections and followed up on the investigation.

According to Proceso, the FETCOOP and the ATIC are still investigating 60 cases associated with this identity trafficking network with the aim of eventually prosecuting them.

InSight Crime Analysis

Immigration to various Central American countries from other continents has increased considerably over the past two years. At the end of 2017, Proceso reported that the majority of immigrants entering Honduras came from Cuba and the continents of Africa and Asia.

A Honduran passport facilitates mobility among the Northern Triangle nations of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It also helps immigrants avoid deportation back to their countries of origin, which would be a significant setback in their journeys. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has attempted to block even legal immigration from certain African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries to the United States, having labeled such migration a threat to national security.

The large number of immigrants from these countries who purchase Honduran identity documents may be the natural result of an increased use of Latin American routes into the United States. Caught between tougher immigration restrictions in both the United States and Europe — the latter having tightened up its immigration routes in response to the conflict-fueled refugee crisis — the citizens of countries with higher restrictions increasingly see Latin America as a viable gateway to the north.

A report by El País in 2016 found that immigrants from Africa were paying between $5,000 and $10,000 for human smugglers to transport them through Central America to the United States.

The discovery of a criminal network in Honduras that sells false identification documents comes at a time when demand for them has surged, which is precisely what such networks could be taking advantage of to increase their profits.

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