Smug­glers ter­ror­ize il­le­gals and their chil­dren to get fees

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jerry Seper

A knife-wield­ing wo­man who snatched­ababyfromher­moth­eron 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 San­tosGomes­bya­wom­an­who­told the mother, “I have killed be­fore, I will kill again,” has cap­tured head­lines na­tion­wide and high­lighted a grow­ing­con­cer­na­mon­gau­thor­i­ties over­theuse­ofvi­o­lence­bythose­who smug­gle aliens into this coun­try.

Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) has re­ported an “un­prece­dented surge in bru­tal­ity” by­hu­mans­mug­glersinthep­asttwo years.Law-en­force­men­tau­thor­i­ties said­hu­mans­mug­gler­sare­prof­it­ing 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.

In­March2004,smug­glersinAri­zona as­saulted a Mex­i­can wo­man and kid­napped her 1-year-old daugh­ter. ICE agents lo­cated the fa­ther in Ohio, and he said the kid­nap­per­shad­de­manded$500forthe child’s re­lease. Un­der­cover ICE agents ar­ranged a meet­ing with the kid­nap­pers,lat­er­ar­rest­ingt­women 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 sub­com­mit­teethisyearthata­grow­ing 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, more­vi­o­lent­groupof­s­mug­glers,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 gang­sofcrim­i­nalaliens,ac­cord­ingto a study this year by the Na­tional CrimeVic­tim­iza­tionSur­vey,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 Cir­cuitJudgeDavidB.Mitchell­say­ing that Adan Canela, 19, and Poli- car­pi­oEspinoza­Perez,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.

“Th­esechil­dren­were­mur­deredto sendames­sage,”JudgeMitchell­said. “Ifthede­fen­dantsre­call­nothin­gelse 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 come­up­with­the­moneythey­owed. Both­came­totheUnit­edS­tates­from 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 Dec. 9-10 week­end press con­fer­ence,ChiefDaniel­sap­pealed forin­for­ma­tionon­the­baby’swhere­abouts or the iden­tity of the kid­nap­pers, say­ing: “If you’re il­le­gally in the coun­try, please come for­ward. Our­in­ten­tis­not­toswoopy­ou­u­pand de­port you. Our goal is to find this baby.” A task force of in­ves­ti­ga­tors has been as­signed, al­though few leads have de­vel­oped.

Mis­sDosSan­tos,ahouse­cleaner, andMr.GomesCosta,aday­la­borer, have de­nied ow­ing any money to smug­glers.

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

“And­be­ingde­ported­doesn’twipe out the debt,” the of­fi­cial said. “Back home, the coy­otes know where they live and, more im­por­tantly, where their fam­i­lies live.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Feliz Navi­dad: Rid­ers of El Conjo Bus Line board a Mex­i­can-bound bus in Kansas City, Mo. on Dec. 9. Bus lines to Mex­ico are busier than usual dur­ing the hol­i­days as many Mex­i­cans work­ing in Amer­ica take ad­van­tage of sea­sonal work slow­downs to re­turn to Mex­ico to visit fam­ily.

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