A Pakistani living in Brazil and on trial in the U.S. has pled guilty to smuggling dozens of illegal immigrants from terrorism-connected countries into the U.S. from 2014 to 2016.
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.
“I want to stay here. I am a poor person. I would like to stay here if possible. I would like to apply for asylum,” he said, speaking through a translator.
“That’s not part of the agreement,” U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton replied, saying Khan had signed paperwork promising to assist in his own deportation once his sentence is completed.
The plot was exposed when Border Patrol agents arrested an Afghan invader crossing the border from Mexico. He tuned out to be listed in the FBI’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database as having suspect relations.
Agents obtained an arrest warrant against Khan on June 3, after Brazilian authorities executed a search warrant on him to help the U.S. case. Khan, a citizen of Pakistan, was living as a legal immigrant in Brazil.
Khan charged up to $15,000 to smuggle someone into the U.S. He would move invaders from Pakistan to Dubai and then to Brazil, where they would start their journey north.
They would travel through Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico before reaching the U.S. border. The journey could take up to nine months and involved trekking for days through jungles in Colombia and Panama.
The U.S. was able to track the route some of them took from Brazil northward because local immigration authorities often encountered them along the way.
Like other networks, Khan relied on local smugglers to recruit clients in his target countries and ship them to Brazil. He then used other smugglers in the Americas to get the clients from Brazil to the U.S. and stashed them in safe houses along the way.
Khan, with the alias “Dr. Nakib,” used the WhatsApp smartphone application to keep in contact with his customers while they were en route. But he told them to delete the conversations when they were caught at the U.S.–Mexico border.
In some of the cases, Khan counted on lax U.S. enforcement to ensure his clients could gain a foothold. He instructed them to show up at a port of entry and turn themselves over to border agents to make claims of asylum.
Other clients would be smuggled across the border, but if arrested by Border Patrol agents, would also claim asylum.
At least 81 people identified Khan as the person who helped facilitate their travel from Brazil to the United States between May 2014 and June 2016, according to court records.
At rates ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 per person, that would mean he collected $240,000 to $1.2 million over that 26-month period.