Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fwd: AZMEX UPDATE 17-8-03

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From: Landis Aden <>
Date: March 16, 2011 5:14:39 PM MST
Subject: AZMEX UPDATE 17-8-03


bajadores azrep 17082003
Gangs are menacing 'coyotes,' immigrants

Assaults, kidnapping are rampant

Daniel González
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 17, 2003 12:00 AM

Violent gangs have operated for years along the border, where they rob and kidnap immigrants and "coyotes" alike, usually at gunpoint. 
But authorities say the booming immigrant-smuggling trade has brought them northward and invaded the Phoenix area, bringing with them tactics common in drug trafficking - assaults, kidnapping and extortion - but previously uncommon in the smuggling business.

Related links
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• Special report: Dangers of crossing the border
In Mexico, they are known as bajadores. In the United States, officials have dubbed those who prey on immigrant-smuggling operations "rip-off crews."
The bajadores have been attracted by the lucrative smuggling trade, which has escalated in the Valley in recent years and grown even more profitable as the United States, by deploying more Border Patrol agents from California to Texas, has made it more difficult to cross into the country illegally, authorities say. 
The enforcement buildup has turned the remote and deadly Arizona desert, where at least 127 immigrants have died this year, into the main gateway for illegal immigration into the United States. 
The buildup also has made Phoenix the primary hub for transporting immigrants to other parts of the country.
The bajadores prey on the smugglers by stealing the immigrants and then threatening to beat them up or kill them unless their families pay a ransom. The ransom isn't cheap, and the bajadores often make good their threats. They typically demand $1,000 to $1,500, the price smugglers charge to transport undocumented immigrants from the border to Phoenix.
The bajadores also kidnap smugglers, who fetch even higher ransoms, and they are staking out routes leading from the border to Phoenix, waiting for vans and other vehicles loaded with undocumented immigrants to kidnap or rob.
Gangs of bajadores have even snatched undocumented immigrants off Valley streets and held them for ransom, law enforcement officials say.
"It's an extremely huge problem," said Armando Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of the human-smuggling unit of the Phoenix Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 
"Now, it's extended to where if you are out working in a yard and you look like you haven't been here for long, you could get taken hostage."
Authorities say the increase in violent crime associated with immigrant smuggling in the Valley has continued since August 1999, when a parking lot shootout between bajadores and smugglers in Phoenix left three people dead and first caught the attention of law enforcement officials. 
By attacking smugglers, the bajadores are cashing in on the smuggling profits without assuming the same risks or costs as the smugglers. 
"It's much like the drug trafficking of the '80s and '90s," said Lt. Rob Robinson, who oversees the Phoenix Police Department's robbery unit.

Escalating violence

The smuggling operations have responded to the growing threats from the bajadores with more weapons and violence.
"They are arming themselves now because of what's happening with the bajadores. They are protecting themselves against the rip-off crews," Garcia said. Caught in the middle are the immigrants who authorities say have become high-priced commodities treated like chattel instead of human beings.
"They're vulnerable victims because of their unlawful (immigration) status, which makes them hesitant to go to the authorities," said Lisa Jennis Settel, an assistant U.S. attorney who specializes in hostage-taking cases.
Jennis Settel recently prosecuted one group of seven bajadores that over a period of seven months was responsible for kidnapping and extorting money from 200 undocumented immigrants.
In fact, officials believe gangs of bajadores are responsible for much of the violent crime associated with the immigrant smuggling trade, including assaults, rapes and murder. 
Much of that crime goes unreported, authorities say, because undocumented immigrants fear that they may be sent back to their countries, or worse, that the bajadores or smugglers will retaliate against them or their families.
A snapshot of the more recent violence involving immigrants:

•  Since January, nine unsolved deaths in Phoenix have been linked to the immigrant-smuggling trade, according to police statistics. 

•  Authorities have also linked to immigrant smuggling a string of nine execution-style killings in the southwest Valley since March, 2002. On Friday, a hiker discovered the bodies of two Hispanic men in a desert area of northeast Phoenix, and police were trying to determine whether the killings were related to immigrant smuggling.

•  The deaths of two undocumented Mexican immigrants last November near the town of Red Rock have been linked to the smuggling trade.

•  Since 1999, the Phoenix Police Department has investigated 622 kidnappings and 1,452 home invasions, and 75 percent of those crimes are tied to immigrant smuggling, said Sgt. Kyran Brennan, a detective in the department's robbery unit.

•  Since Aug. 15, 2002, federal immigration officials have responded to 51 calls from local law enforcement agencies relating to immigrant smuggling, reporting crimes ranging from assault and rape to murder. As a result, 90 people were prosecuted for crimes including human smuggling, hostage taking, conspiracy, kidnapping, extortion, harboring undocumented immigrants, transporting undocumented immigrants, firearm possession and violence with a firearm.
"In the past, alien smuggling has been viewed as a victimless crime. But that's changed," said Thomas DeRouchey, the interim special agent in charge of the Phoenix Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

'Drop houses' targeted

Much of the violence is occurring at the hundreds of "drop houses" that have sprung up in neighborhoods throughout the Valley. 
On Friday, two men were shot in a Mesa apartment complex where police found 48 undocumented immigrants. 
The drop houses are used by smuggling operations to warehouse immigrants who are waiting to be transported to other parts of the country or for relatives to pay smuggling fees. 
Armed with guns, the bajadores force their way into drop houses, which are often dilapidated homes or cheap motels, robbing or kidnapping the immigrants at gunpoint.
"The gangs are robbing coyotes and robbing each other," said Hector, a 41-year-old undocumented immigrant from the Mexican state of Sinaloa who now lives in Phoenix. "The gangs have their own snitches inside the smuggling networks."

'Like a pack of cigarettes'

That's how they know where the drop houses are or when a van full of undocumented immigrants is coming. 
Hector recalled the time he was robbed by bajadores at a Phoenix drop house after crossing the border with a group of immigrants near Naco. 

"There were 100 of us crammed into a three-bedroom house. There wasn't a single piece of furniture. We were packed in there like a pack of cigarettes," said Hector, who asked that his last name not be published.
The next morning, there was a knock at the front door. When the smuggler opened the door, a man outside pulled out a gun and rushed in. 
"He yelled, 'Don't move! . . . If you even bat an eyelash, I'll kill you!' " Hector recalled.
The gunman whistled, and eight or 10 more men with guns entered the house and robbed the immigrants. 
"They didn't take anything from me because I knew better than to carry anything valuable. But they took chains, rings, watches and money from the others," Hector said.

Reallocating resources

Since taking charge of the Phoenix Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on June 9, DeRouchey has shifted resources from responding to drop houses to investigating smuggling operations, including bajadores
He said the recent merging of immigration and customs enforcement into one bureau under the Department of Homeland Security will give federal authorities more power to investigate smuggling operations than under the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was limited to investigating immigration crimes. With the combined authority, the new bureau will now be able to investigate immigrant smuggling operations for money laundering, drugs and weapons exportation, DeRouchey said.
"Now that we're one, we have more authority that we can utilize to investigate these types of crimes," he said. "That's a huge bonus for us."
The increase in smuggling-related violence has further added to a crisis in Arizona, where this year the number of undocumented immigrants who have died in the desert after crossing into the United States illegally is on pace to break last year's record of 145 deaths.
"The District of Arizona faces especially daunting challenges in combating alien smuggling," Paul Charlton, U.S. attorney for Arizona, said last month while testifying before a Senate subcommittee looking into increasing jail time for convicted smugglers. 
Although the immigrant-smuggling trade has become as lucrative as the narcotics trade and just as violent, people convicted of immigrant smuggling face far lighter sentences than narcotics traffickers under current sentencing guidelines, Charlton pointed out. 
"The risks inherent in transporting human beings through the harsh and unforgiving desert of southern Arizona, as well as the increasing violence of the industry, have resulted in a disturbing humanitarian crisis," Charlton testified.

Cheap labor

But Ruben Beltran, Mexican consul general for Phoenix, argues that the violence associated with immigrant smuggling is only a symptom of a much bigger issue: the demand for cheap immigrant labor.
He believes law enforcement agencies are now focusing more attention on smuggling-related violence, although it has existed for years. 
"What is worrisome is that all of these cases are symptoms that reflect a system that is not able to cope with the realities of migration," Beltran said. "It's obvious that organized crime is benefiting by the needs on both sides of the border; the people who need the jobs and the people who are posting those jobs."
Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8312.

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