WASHINGTON — An Eritrea national and citizen of the United Kingdom made his initial appearance Monday in federal court to face human smuggling charges for his role in smuggling primarily Eritreans and Ethiopians from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, through South and Central America and then Mexico into the United States. The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington.
Habtom Merhay, 47, was indicted in the District of Columbia in 2012. Merhay has been in the custody of Moroccan authorities pending extradition since his arrest in Marrakech, Morocco, in August 2013.
Merhay was charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle undocumented aliens to the U.S. for profit and 15 counts of unlawfully bringing persons in to the country. Merhay operated with a network of smugglers in Africa, the UAE, South and Central America, Mexico and elsewhere. Merhay spearheaded and implemented arrangements to smuggle individuals by providing fraudulent identity and travel documents to travel through Latin America and ultimately into the U.S.
At a cost of up to $15,000, Merhay arranged for individuals to travel from points in Africa to a house or apartment in Dubai, where he provided travel documents, tickets and instructions for meeting other smugglers while on the way to the U.S. Merhay coordinated their air travel to South America, where they would meet with Merhay's associates who directed or guided them across the various country borders. Ultimately the aliens met with other smugglers associated with Merhay and were further guided north to Mexico and then into the U.S. sometimes by crossing the Rio Grande by raft.
The investigation was conducted under the Extraterritorial Criminal Travel Strike Force (ECT) program, a joint partnership between the Justice Department's Criminal Division and HSI. The ECT program focuses on human smuggling networks that may present particular national security or public safety risks or present grave humanitarian concerns. ECT has dedicated investigative, intelligence and prosecutorial resources. ECT coordinates and receives assistance from other U.S. government agencies and foreign law enforcement authorities.