- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Three Detroit-area residents were arrested yesterday by federal agents in an international conspiracy to smuggle more than 200 persons from Jordan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries illegally into the United States, authorities said yesterday.

Neeran Hakim Zaia, 50, Basima Sesi, 59, and Basil Yousif Denha, 54, all Iraqi-born naturalized U.S. citizens and residents of Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb, were taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in a sealed indictment returned Friday by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The five-count indictment accused the three of conspiracy to smuggle aliens into the United States beginning in early 2001 through the present and bringing unauthorized aliens to the United States for commercial advantage or private financial gain.

Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, said Mrs. Zaia owned Universal Investment and Law Services, which she used as a conduit for alien-smuggling activities, advertising in Detroit press outlets, including an Arab-language magazine.

Mr. Garcia said that she and a conspirator also operated Saudi-Jordan, a travel agency in Amman, Jordan, and that they met there with foreign nationals who wanted to enter the United States. He said they also recruited aliens in Iraq and Jordan seeking to be taken to America in exchange for cash payments — often for thousands of dollars.

Mrs. Zaia, according to the indictment, told the migrants that she could obtain the appropriate travel documents to facilitate their entry into the United States in exchange for the cash. The indictment also said Mrs. Zaia and other conspirators promised aliens that they would obtain U.S. visas, but after securing partial payments for those visas, instead provided the aliens with visas from countries in South America.

Mr. Garcia said the three Detroit-area residents transported the aliens to South American countries as a staging area for entry into the United States and then demanded additional money to bring them to America. He said that during the course of the conspiracy, more than 200 aliens were brought to and smuggled illegally into the United States.

“By arresting the leaders of this network, we have broken a human-smuggling organization that exploited vulnerabilities in our border, and we have shut down an avenue for smuggling individuals from Iraq, Jordan and other countries into the U.S,” Mr. Garcia said.

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