- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

Federal agents will begin a new law enforcement initiative today aimed at shutting down the Arizona border to the smuggling of illegal aliens, which has spawned violence that has spread 200 miles north into the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, who heads border and transportation security for the agency, will announce the program — known as the Arizona Border Control Initiative — during a press conference at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, saying it seeks to achieve “operational control of the Arizona border.”

The initiative will bring together agents and inspectors from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), as well as the Interior Department and numerous other law enforcement agencies.

Law enforcement authorities in southern Arizona have told Homeland Security authorities the area is under siege by illegal aliens, smugglers of aliens, drug traffickers and others, who have caused a huge surge in violent crimes in the Phoenix area.

Last year, the federal government responded to that concern with a high-profile operation known as “Ice Storm,” a massive federal law enforcement effort begun in November that sought to dismantle smuggling organizations, prosecute alien and drug smugglers, and seize their assets.

More than 1,600 people have been arrested since then on various charges, including alien smuggling, money laundering, drug trafficking and kidnapping, and nearly $2 million in illicit cash has been seized.

A financial analysis last year 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 said much of that cash was earmarked to pay smuggling fees.

Last week, Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge for improved federal support to secure the southern border, saying security improvements in other parts of the Southwest had resulted in a “funneling effect, driving drug traffickers, alien smugglers and migrants through the Arizona desert.”

In a letter, the two Republicans said local authorities have been struggling to respond to border and other immigration-related security concerns without adequate federal coordination, noting that agents in Arizona in the past month raided 16 drop houses, apprehended 750 illegal aliens and arrested 20 suspected smugglers.

Drop houses, where illegal aliens are held either until they pay off their smugglers or while in transit to other cities, have increased dramatically in the Phoenix metropolitan area over the past few years — corresponding to a similar rise in alien-smuggling operations.

During Ice Storm, 97 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were assigned to the Phoenix office, along with 50 temporary agents, while 135 were detailed to the Tucson office, which incudes Nogales, Douglas and Sells.

In addition, the Tucson and Yuma sectors have about 2,100 Border Patrol agents dedicated to border enforcement. They apprehended 18,745 more illegal aliens in the first two months of this year than in the same two months of 2003.

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