WASHINGTON – A Ghanaian man was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to smuggling East African economic refugees into the United States via Latin America.
Mohammed Kamel Ibrahim, 27, was known as "Silk the Shocker" when he lived in Mexico in 2007 operating what U.S. government officials said was a major smuggling pipeline.
The case raised alarms among intelligence officials focused on networks that smuggle people from Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan — known havens for terrorists, including al-Qaida.
In intercepted e-mails, Ibrahim wrote that "getting into the U.S. is no problem at all," and could be done for a price of $5,000.
According to court documents the smugglers had associates in Africa, typically corrupt officials. And they chose their routes based on which transit points employ easily bribed authorities.
Routes have included traveling from East Africa to Johannesburg, South Africa, and from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo, Brazil. East Africans also flew from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Rome to Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela in 2007, according to an intelligence assessment. In addition, the smugglers have access to fake and real Belizean, Bolivian, Chilean, Mexican, Peruvian and South African visas.
In Ibrahim's case, people were stored in luggage compartments of buses for as long as 12 hours and driven to the U.S.-Mexican border. The smugglers escorted clients as they walked across the border into the United States between official entry ports.
East Africans mostly come to the United States to find better lives because of a lack of job opportunities in their home countries.