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February 13, 2023Honolulu, HI, United StatesPartnership and Engagement, National Security

HSI announces Mariana Islands Border Enforcement Security Task Force

HONOLULU — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced new border initiatives in cooperation with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) on Feb. 10 and Guam on Feb. 13 to advance border security.

HSI Assistant Director Jerry Templet, HSI Honolulu Special Agent in Charge John F. Tobon, Lt. Gov. David Apatang of the CNMI, and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio of Guam made the announcement.

“Criminal organizations no longer have access to these strategic stopping points in their bid to avoid capture in furthering their criminal enterprise,” said Templet. “The strong partnerships with local partners will enable through this task force to investigate scofflaws and prosecute those who seek to harm our communities.”

“The HSI special agents assigned to the Border Enforcement Security Teams (BEST) in both the CNMI and Guam are now better positioned to bring their training, expertise and unique law enforcement authorities with them in this partnership,” said Tobon. “We anticipate increased efficiencies and more effectiveness of our investigative capabilities in deterring transnational crime.”

“The most effective law enforcement task forces are those that unify local and federal law enforcement agencies to protect our people. The Mariana Islands Border Enforcement Safety Task Force will be vital in drug interdiction missions and combating threats facing our island and the Marianas, and we have committed officers to join the task force,” said Acting Governor Josh Tenorio. “Officers from various government of Guam law enforcement agencies are currently embedded with the Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Marshals Services, and the United States Postal Task Force.”

The CNMI and Guam are geographically isolated in the Pacific Ocean and nearly all available goods arrive by sea and air. Based on the Mariana Islands’ proximity to Asia, transnational criminal organizations use the CNMI and Guam as transit points for illegal activities.

Members of transnational criminal organizations are involved in many illicit activities, including murder, narcotics and weapons trafficking, and human smuggling. HSI uses its unique immigration and customs legal authorities to combat these activities and protect the United States from all illegal activity with a border nexus.

The BEST task force will address the vulnerabilities and threats that transnational criminal organizations pose. It will also advance border security at transportation and port facilities by enhancing investigations and helping dismantle organizations that exploit global commerce and infrastructure — primarily through the imports and exports processed through U.S. seaports and airports.

The strong network of law enforcement partners’ unique law enforcement authorities, increased intelligence sharing, and focused collaboration helps further develop multi-jurisdictional cases. Personnel from HSI, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, task force officers from Guam’s Customs and Quarantine Agency, the Guam Police Department, the Guam Airport Police, CNMI Customs and Quarantine, and the CNMI Department of Public Safety will staff the BEST.

In 2012, the Jaime Zapata BEST Act (Pub. L. 112-205) was signed into law. Named in memory of Jaime Zapata, an HSI special agent assigned to a BEST task force was murdered Feb. 15, 2011, while on duty in Mexico. The law amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to formally establish the BEST program within DHS and authorized the secretary of Homeland Security to direct the assignment of federal personnel to BEST. It also enabled the secretary to take other actions to aid federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement agencies participating in BEST, including providing financial assistance for operational, administrative and technical costs associated with participation.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Updated: 02/15/2023