Man smuggling Muslims into US through Brazil pleads guilty
Federal authorities wrangled a guilty plea Wednesday from a Brazilian man who ran one of the Western Hemisphere’s more flagrant alien smuggling operations, sneaking dozens of illegal immigrants from terrorism-connected countries into the U.S. from 2014 to 2016.Khan was a Pakistani who immigrated to Brazil legally to facilitate his scheme of getting people into the US.
Sharafat Ali Khan specialized in smuggling illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh over to the West, where they would be staged in Brazil before being sent north to try to penetrate the U.S.
One of the men Khan helped smuggle into the country was an Afghan who authorities said was involved in a plot to conduct an attack in the U.S. or Canada and had family ties to members of the Taliban.
Khan appeared in federal court in Washington on Wednesday and agreed to plead guilty to a smuggling conspiracy charge. He will be sentenced this summer and could get up to 46 months in prison, though a lower sentence is likely.
Khan also agreed to accept deportation after he serves his time — though not before making a plea to stay in the U.S.
The case is part of a stepped-up effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shut down some of the smuggling rings that shepherd tens of thousands of people up through Latin America and to the doorstep of the U.S.
But the Khan network stood out because it focused on linking would-be migrants in the Middle East with smugglers in the Western Hemisphere, giving potential terrorists a path into the U.S.
Networks capable of smuggling potential terrorists have long been a concern, but the Obama administration tamped down those worries by arguing that the southwestern border wasn’t a likely route for operatives.
However, evidence to the contrary has mounted over the past couple of years, including a smuggling ring that sneaked four Turkish men with ties to a U.S.-designated terrorist group into the U.S. in 2014. They paid $8,000 apiece to be smuggled from Istanbul through Paris to Mexico City, where they were stashed in safe houses before being smuggled to the border.