- The Washington Times - Friday, July 16, 2004

Federal agents began a high-visibility operation at Los Angeles International Airport this week aimed at identifying and disrupting alien smuggling rings that route thousands of illegal immigrants to jobs in cities nationwide, arresting 77 suspected illegals in the first two days.

It was the first time federal agents have been deployed at LAX to combat alien smuggling. Earlier this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were successful in deterring alien smuggling at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.

“We are taking this action to interdict the flow of illegal aliens, most of whom crossed the border just a few days earlier and are attempting to get to other places in the United States,” CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said.

Mr. Bonner said intelligence data show aliens already in Arizona were being routed by the smugglers — for fees of up to $2,000 a person — through Sky Harbor to cities nationwide, but the operation shifted to Los Angeles because of the Border Patrol’s crackdown.

He said of the 77 aliens apprehended in the previous two days in Los Angeles, 64 had crossed into this country in Arizona and then were taken to Los Angeles to await a flight to another city.

“I think we’re putting a lid on the operation and, as was the case in Phoenix, Los Angeles will no longer be an attractive or easy place for smugglers to move large numbers of aliens into the United States,” Mr. Bonner said after a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C.

On Wednesday, teams of uniformed Border Patrol agents, CBP inspectors and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators began operating out of high-profile positions throughout the airport, fifth in the world for the number of passengers and tonnage of air cargo handled, in an effort to curb smuggling activity, interdict and arrest suspected smugglers, and gather information on ongoing smuggling methods.

Cutting off the smugglers’ access in Los Angeles also is expected to increase their reliance on “drop houses,” where they attempt to conceal their human cargo. As the level of activity in the houses escalates, authorities said, it works to law enforcement’s advantage by making the smugglers’ operations more conspicuous.

The Los Angeles airport operation is an outgrowth of a joint CBP and ICE investigation known as the Arizona Border Control Initiative, a $10 million program aimed at gaining “operational control” of the Arizona-Mexico border.

The initiative, the first of its kind, seeks to confront and confound terrorists; detect, arrest and deter all cross-border illicit trafficking; significantly reduce the ability of alien smugglers to operate along the Southwest border; and put a stop to the rising rate of violent crime throughout Arizona.

Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar has said the program builds on the combined assets of the Department of Homeland Security, CBP, ICE, the Transportation Security Administration, the Interior Department and other federal law-enforcement agencies, including dozens of state and local police and prosecutors.

“This is a very important partnership of law enforcement and government agencies, who have come together for operational planning purposes in a joint effort to make the most effective use of resources to secure our nation’s border,” Chief Aguilar said.

Earlier this year, ICE agents arrested several groups of smuggled aliens at the Los Angeles airport who were destined for cities throughout the United States. Additionally, other large groups of smuggled aliens were apprehended at airports on the East Coast after arriving on flights originating in Los Angeles.

In April, CBP officers in Newark, N.J., intercepted 88 illegal immigrants from among 222 passengers on board a Continental Airlines flight inbound from Los Angeles.

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