- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A knife-wielding woman who snatched a baby from her mother on a Florida street was delivering a message from smugglers that they wanted money for bringing the infant’s parents illegally from Brazil, according to police.

The brazen Dec. 1 daylight kidnapping of 1-month-old Bryan Dos Santos Gomes by a woman who told the mother, “I have killed before, I will kill again,” has captured headlines nationwide and highlighted a growing concern among authorities over the use of violence by those who smuggle aliens into this country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported an “unprecedented surge in brutality” by human smugglers in the past two years. Law-enforcement authorities said human smugglers are profiting from a business that could be yielding as much as $9.5 billion a year through the use of force and fear.

Last year, ICE investigations into these increasingly ruthless organizations led to more than 5,400 arrests, 2,300 convictions and the seizure of nearly $27 million in cash and property.

Children have become lucrative targets for human smugglers seeking to collect past-due payments, law-enforcement authorities said, noting that babies can fetch more than $3,500 on the black market in Brazil, Argentina and Guatemala.

In March 2004, smugglers in Arizona assaulted a Mexican woman and kidnapped her 1-year-old daughter. ICE agents located the father in Ohio, and he said the kidnappers had demanded $500 for the child’s release. Undercover ICE agents arranged a meeting with the kidnappers, later arresting two men who led them to a home in Douglas, Ariz., where the baby was rescued.

Law-enforcement authorities say alien smugglers charge between $1,500 and $20,000 a head, depending on the country of origin, and have become more brazen in protecting their investment.

U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton in Arizona, where about half of the 1.2 million illegal aliens apprehended each year are caught, told a Senate subcommittee this year that a growing number of human smugglers have turned to violence to extort payment from their clients.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar recently noted that alien and drug smugglers are more willing than ever to fight agents when confronted. He added that a new, more violent group of smugglers, or coyotes, is vying for control of human-smuggling operations. The criminal element crossing the border has spread throughout the United States, to cities such as Dallas, San Diego, Washington, Miami and Raleigh, N.C.

Violence in migrant communities in this country continues to grow, particularly involving organized gangs of criminal aliens, according to a study this year by the National Crime Victimization Survey, released by the Justice Department.

In September, two Mexican illegal aliens found guilty in the murders of three young relatives in Baltimore were each sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without parole plus 30 years, with Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell saying that Adan Canela, 19, and Policarpio Espinoza Perez, 24, deserved “the severest sentence” allowable.

They were convicted in the May 2004 fatal beatings and near-beheadings of Lucero Solis Quezada, 8, her brother Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr., 9, and their cousin Alexis Espejo Quezada, 10. Despite early reports that Perez owed human smugglers $450 for bringing him into the United States 10 years ago, which he denied, the government never established a motive in the case.

“These children were murdered to send a message,” Judge Mitchell said. “If the defendants recall nothing else from this but their long years of incarceration, let them remember the revulsion of this city, state and nation to these heinous acts.”

In the Fort Myers, Fla., kidnapping, Police Chief Hilton Daniels said investigators think baby Bryan was abducted by members of a human-smuggling organization when the father, Jurandir Gomes Costa, 26, and his girlfriend, the baby’s mother, Maria de Fatima Ramos Dos Santos, 23, could not come up with the money they owed. Both came to the United States from Brazil in 2004.

Chief Daniels said the baby was taken as a means to force payment, although he said investigators did not know how much was owed or to whom. He said investigators originally thought the kidnapper was a woman desperate to have her own child but developed the new information from tips from the community.

At a weekend press conference, Chief Daniels appealed for information on the baby’s whereabouts or the identity of the kidnappers, saying: “If you’re illegally in the country, please come forward. Our intent is not to swoop you up and deport you. Our goal is to find this baby.” A task force of investigators has been assigned, although few leads have developed.

Miss Dos Santos, a house cleaner, and Mr. Gomes Costa, a day laborer, have denied owing any money to smugglers.

“It’s difficult to know who the parents fear more, the police or the smugglers,” said one law-enforcement official familiar with human-smuggling operations. “The smugglers can be very brutal and that puts the parents and Baby Bryan in a real tough place.

“And being deported doesn’t wipe out the debt,” the official said. “Back home, the coyotes know where they live and, more importantly, where their families live.”

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