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INS News Release

August 9, 2000


INS Launches Sweeping Crackdown Against Migrant Smugglers
Operation Targets Transportation Hubs and Drop Houses in Arizona and Nevada

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Describing migrant smugglers as "ruthless and unscrupulous," Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner today announced a large-scale crackdown on migrant smuggling through Arizona.

Operation Denial, which begins today, seeks to curb the victimization and violence that are becoming increasingly prevalent in alien smuggling in the greater Phoenix area. Within the last year, four homicides in Phoenix have been directly linked to organized alien smuggling.

"We are seeing increased instances of violence from alien smugglers who are putting migrants and the public at risk. The fatal shooting outside an auto parts store here a year ago is just one alarming example," Commissioner Meissner said. "We believe Operation Denial will deal a serious blow to the smuggling trade and to the violence and crime it breeds."

More than 100 INS personnel are taking part in Operation Denial, including 62 officers who are being detailed to Phoenix and Las Vegas from other INS offices nationwide. The goal of the initiative is to choke smugglers’ access to the networks that enable them to move their human cargo. Those networks include airports, major highways and local residences being used as "drop houses" to hide smuggled migrants.

Two of the key transit points utilized by the smugglers are Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. INS agents will carry out round-the-clock surveillance at both airports both to deter smuggling activity and to identify and arrest suspected smugglers. The heightened INS presence at the airports is expected to increase smugglers’ reliance on area "drop houses," which in turn makes the smugglers’ activities more conspicuous.

All of these measures are designed to thwart smugglers’ ability to tap into the networks that have made Phoenix and Las Vegas popular smuggling hubs because of their proximity to a large airport and major interstate highways. Most smuggled migrants who arrive in both communities are bound for other major cities throughout the United States. Smugglers hold the migrants in "drop houses" while they arrange for transportation to those destinations.

Prior to launching Operation Denial, INS officials consulted with community leaders and organizations about the growing victimization and violence associated with migrant smuggling. To further facilitate community involvement in the effort, INS is setting up a temporary 24-hour toll-free number, 1-866-4DENIAL (1-866-433-6425), which will enable the public to report questionable activity.

"The human cost exacted by the smuggling trade is staggering and continues to climb," the Commissioner said. "These smugglers care about only one thing—money."

INS will coordinate closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute those smugglers identified during the course of Operation Denial. The increasing violence involved in alien smuggling has led to stiffer penalties for those who engage in this illegal trade. Smugglers who use firearms and endanger lives are receiving mandatory prison time and lengthy sentences.

– INS –