Immigration crackdown intensifies
William Hermann and Judi Villa
The Arizona Republic
May. 11, 2006 12:00 AM
Valley law enforcement agencies are ramping up efforts to combat illegal immigration, but they are using the state's anti-human-smuggling statute to tackle the problem from two different directions.
On the one hand, a multi-agency financial crimes task force has been using surveillance and undercover operations for the past two months to target smugglers and cripple them financially.
On the other hand, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has mobilized a posse to seek out and arrest undocumented immigrants for conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the United States.
The efforts come on the heels of an anti-human-smuggling statute that took effect in Arizona in August and gave prosecutors a tool to go after "coyotes," or smugglers, who traffic in undocumented immigrants. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office later issued an opinion saying undocumented immigrants suspected of paying coyotes could be prosecuted as conspirators.
Both approaches initially appear to be having an impact.
On Wednesday, task force officials from Phoenix police, the state Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Attorney General's Office announced their investigation into human-smuggling operations and money laundering has netted 62 arrests, along with weapons, cars and cash.
The ongoing investigation has been an attack of smuggling operations "from the top down," DPS Director Roger Vanderpool said.
"We are going after the leaders. We believe that our police shouldn't become immigration officers," Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said. "Do we want to raid restaurants and arrest dishwashers? We need to arrest the people at the top."
In the past two months, the task force has seized 11 weapons, 62 vehicles, six real estate properties valued at $1.7 million, 5 kilograms of cocaine and 3 pounds of marijuana. In addition, $4.8 million in cash was seized and 528 undocumented immigrants were turned over to immigration authorities
, Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said.
"These people are in this for the cash," state Attorney General Terry Goddard said. "If we're going to cut off this poison, we're going to do it by making it unprofitable to conduct human smuggling."
On Wednesday night, Arpaio's posse fanned out across the desert, looking for illegal immigrants being smuggled on state highways and local roadways. In the past six weeks, Arpaio's operation has jailed 146 undocumented immigrants, including 12 smugglers.
Arpaio said Wednesday that he hoped his agency's efforts would be a deterrent, with illegal immigrants and smugglers realizing they're going to jail.
"They have to get the message and stop coming over here," Arpaio said. "Do it legally."