- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

State and local law enforcement officials yesterday joined with the Department of Homeland Security to form a multiagency task force to combat alien smuggling and its associated violence.

It will be led by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“We’re dealing with ruthless individuals who view human life as nothing more than cargo for profit,” said ICE boss Michael J. Garcia in announcing the initiative at a Phoenix press conference. “We’re making a commitment to put an end to this violence.

“Never have agencies on so many levels come together and pooled their expertise to deal with this problem,” said Mr. Garcia, who pledged that the task force would “use its broad range of authorities and resources to dismantle organized-crime outfits that have turned human smuggling into a bloody but profitable venture.”

The task force’s creation comes at a time that federal, state and local authorities have documented the increased use by the smugglers of assault weapons. Since June, authorities said, ICE agents in Phoenix have seized more than 80 illegal weapons, including AK-47s, SKS military assault rifles and a .50-caliber Desert Eagle automatic handgun.

Last week, Border Patrol agents — part of the new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — arrested four men in Arizona suspected in the shooting deaths of four others in deadly confrontation between rival alien smugglers. The men were taken into custody after being tracked into the desert after they abandoned their car along a highway.

Several other smuggling suspects remain at large, authorities said.

“Smuggling-related violence in the Phoenix area has reached epidemic proportions,” said Mr. Garcia. “It affects virtually every segment of the community and we need the public’s help to locate these suspects and bring them to justice.”

Since mid-September, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix has initiated prosecutions in more than 80 cases related to smuggling. In addition to human-smuggling violations, the federal charges include money laundering, narcotics smuggling, weapons violations and other violent crime.

A financial analysis by ICE showed that during a six-month period in early 2003 more than $160 million was funneled into Phoenix through money-transmitting businesses. Investigators believe much of that money was earmarked to pay smuggling fees.

In support of the operation, ICE has deployed 50 additional agents to the Phoenix area. In addition, a dozen federal, state and local agencies will participated in the task force, including CBP; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Arizona Attorney General’s Office; the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office; the Arizona Department of Public Safety; the Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale police departments; and the Maricopa and Pinal counties’ sheriff’s offices.

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