Skip to comments.Immigrant smugglers grow more violent
Posted on 12/06/2003 12:02:41 PM PST by sarcasm
PHOENIX Authorities made the discovery just before Thanksgiving: Three bodies all men, all slain were found west of this desert boomtown, near a pile of cow bones. All had been shot and left shoeless in the green-gray brush.
It was another dark turn in what federal officials say has become the nation's hub of immigrant smuggling.
Violence tied to smuggling continues to mount in the Phoenix area. Twelve men, believed to be illegal immigrants, have been shot execution-style since early last year and dumped in the central Arizona desert.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he believes it's no accident the bodies have been found near rural roads and major highways. "To me, the smugglers are sending the message to pay up or be executed," he said.
During a visit to Phoenix on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge promised a sustained crackdown on smugglers, known as "coyotes."
Ridge labeled human trafficking "one of the most vicious forms of activity."
Some experts on illegal immigration link the rise in violence to tighter border controls in Texas and California.
They believe crackdowns such as Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego are pushing immigrants toward Arizona and into the hands of increasingly violent and greedy smugglers.
"Right now, the worst criminal element in Mexico has taken over the job of 'coyote,' " said Elias Bermudez of Centro De Ayuda, a Phoenix-based immigration advocacy group. "It's like the Al Capone days."
Maricopa County sheriff deputies are investigating the killings. Arpaio said many of the victims were bound with duct tape, rope or other materials. All were between the ages of 20 and 40. All were found shoeless.
The sheriff said he is frustrated the killings aren't getting more attention.
"The outrage is not there from the general public," Arpaio said. "If these murders had occurred in an affluent area, I'm sure there would be headlines and pressure on us every day."
Meanwhile, police in Phoenix report a surge in homicides and related crimes this year, partly because of human smuggling.
Along the Arizona-Mexico border, the rate to hire a smuggler has reached $1,500 to $2,000, authorities said.
Law enforcement officials said they believe many illegal immigrants end up in metropolitan Phoenix, in suburban houses controlled by heavily armed smugglers.
Many smugglers then extort the immigrants for more money. If they fail or refuse, violence can follow, authorities say.
Authorities said they believe other deaths are tied to bajadores, bands of smugglers who steal illegal immigrants from other smugglers. Held at gunpoint, the frightened immigrants are forced to pay their new smugglers more money.
Many smugglers say they'll hurt the immigrant's family if the money isn't paid. In one recent case, a smuggler threatened to cut off the hand of an immigrant's child.
Authorities don't have an exact fix on the extent of the bajadore problem but say reports of immigrant kidnappings are on the rise.
In early November, a freeway shootout between competing gangs of "coyotes" resulted in the deaths of four people.
The brazenness of the rush-hour gunfight on Interstate 10 south of Phoenix shocked many and underscored the depth of the smuggling problem.
"Smugglers are going to use the area of least resistance, and that's Arizona," said Tom DeRouchey, special agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. "And right now, all roads lead to Phoenix."
DeRouchey leads a special team of 50 investigators formed in September to crack down on smuggling.
He said the multi-agency team known as Operation ICE Storm is prosecuting 81 people for felony smuggling, kidnapping and related crimes.
The team wants to rob smugglers of any economic incentive. Investigators have frozen or seized more than $1.4 million in smuggling-related funds.
Federal investigators estimate that during the first half of 2003, some $160 million was funneled into Phoenix check-cashing and money transfer businesses. The money was probably from family and friends of immigrants trying to pay off the smugglers, investigators said.
The team includes officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Attorney's Office, along with several law enforcement agencies based in Arizona.
The multi-agency approach was made possible by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which placed federal immigration and customs agencies under the same umbrella.
U.S. immigration officials are stepping up patrols in southern Arizona and recently stationed agents at Phoenix's international airport, a jumping-off point for many illegals.
Authorities say some drug smugglers appear to be getting into the human trade because of the money and less severe penalties.
Under federal law, a person found guilty of human smuggling spends a few years in prison, while a drug smuggling conviction could mean life imprisonment.
A federal government commission is reviewing sentencing laws with the idea of possibly extending penalties for immigrant smuggling.
DeRouchey disagrees with those who pin Arizona's problems on tighter border controls in places such as San Diego.
"The blame lies at the very feet of the alien smugglers," he said. "The harder we make it for illegal aliens to get into this country, the better off we are."
News of the recent executions and related violence has spooked many illegal immigrants.
Joaquin Diaz, 35, paid smugglers $500 to sneak him into Arizona three years ago. It was a harrowing trip. He and other men hiked three days in the hot desert outback.
The risks are greater now, he said. Too great, given the recent violence. "There are a lot of people who don't come now because of that," said Diaz, who spoke in Spanish.
Ramon Dominguez, 18, crossed in September with other immigrants and a smuggler. It took a week to pass through the desert. Dominguez's cousin nearly died on the journey.
"I needed a 'coyote' because I didn't know the way," he said.
Dominguez and others describe some smugglers as decent people out to help fellow Mexicans. But they've also heard horror stories of smugglers extorting border-crossers for more money once they reach Phoenix.
Salvador Reza, who runs a day labor center for immigrants in Phoenix, said illegal immigration will continue as long as the Mexican economy is weaker than the U.S. economy.
"You can die of hunger in Mexico or risk it and maybe make it here," he said.
Bermudez, of Centro De Ayuda, agreed. To him, illegal immigration from Mexico "is not a criminal activity. It's economics."
He said the killings have created a "horrific fear" of smugglers among immigrants, but not enough to discourage more people from crossing into Arizona.
Veronica Sanchez, 27, said she crossed the border as a young girl with her family and a smuggler. Today, she's a U.S. citizen.
"It was fun. It was like a dream. We were crossing over to a dream," she said. "Now you can't trust anybody."
I'm sure Al Queda will "pay up"
Mr. Bush, your failure to secure our borders is a treasonous act.
If we're the victims of another major terrorist attack committed by Islamists and it can be proven that the non-citizen perps entered the country after 9/11 as a result of our lax immigration policies, the President should indeed be charged with treason.
To him, illegal immigration from Mexico "is not a criminal activity. It's the raping of America at their government's request."
Anymore, I'm not even sure about that. All this illegal immigration makes me livid.
Those who support illegals are sleeper agents or mentally ill or have succumbed to bribery/blackmail.
This is old news to Phoenicians but this report is out of San Diego, where the illegal community has managed to build up some sort of legitimacy - enough so that the media knows who to go to in order to get comments from their side of things.
I wonder why these people aren't also deported...?< /rhetoric>
The PC crowd has those in power so afraid of opening their mouths that they simply don't. Say the wrong thing and your life of influence, power, privilege, whatever, is over. Don't believe it? Look at Trent Lott.
Soooo....rather than be branded a racist they simply look the other way...even when they know what is going on is wrong and detrimental to America.
It's hard to feel any pity for those who deal with drug lords and then get burned. They know full well the terms before going into those deals, they agree to be mules for the cartels and then we're supposed to be upset when something goes wrong? Stay home and don't bring drugs over the border and you'll be fine.
I wonder how much of this goes to South of the Border cops and politicians?
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