Im­mi­grant smug­gler tot­ing AK-47 set off ICE shootout

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

An AK-47-tot­ing man smug­gling illegal im­mi­grants opened fire on ICE agents in Phoenix this month, spark­ing a shootout that left a mem­ber of his smug­gling gang dead, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments de­tail­ing the lat­est episode in what au­thor­i­ties say is grow­ing vi­o­lence in the illegal im­mi­grant econ­omy.

The in­ci­dent has drawn scant na­tional at­ten­tion, and U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors have been tight with de­tails, say­ing the April 11 shootout is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But the pic­ture that emerges from the court doc­u­ments is of an abu­sive im­mi­gra­tion smug­gling gang run­ning a stash house on an Amer­i­can In­dian reser­va­tion that spans the south­west­ern bor­der, prey­ing off the mis­ery of mi­grants whom they kid­napped and extorted for money be­fore de­liv­er­ing them to their des­ti­na­tions.

Au­thor­i­ties were tipped to the gang when one of the mi­grants, who wasn’t a client but whom the gang kid­napped just after he sneaked across the bor­der, man­aged to es­cape through a win­dow and flag down a po­lice of­fi­cer.

As agents from ICE’s Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions worked to roll up the smug­gling ring, they en­coun­tered some of its mem­bers ap­par­ently mak­ing a run to Cal­i­for­nia car­ry­ing two illegal im­mi­grant cus­tomers.

When agents tried to make a traf­fic stop on the gang’s Chevro­let Trail­blazer, the SUV sped off, plowed through traf­fic and smashed one ICE ve­hi­cle into a wall, ac­cord­ing to the court doc­u­ments.

The SUV even­tu­ally spun out of con­trol, and agents closed in. They say that was when War­ren Jose, one of the smug­glers, grabbed an AK-47 as­sault ri­fle and be­gan spray­ing the Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions agents’ ve­hi­cles with gun­fire. The agents re­turned fire and the SUV’s driver was killed, agents said.

Four agents were taken to a hos­pi­tal for med­i­cal eval­u­a­tion. An ICE spokes­woman said Wed­nes­day that the four were treated for non-life-threat­en­ing in­juries and re­leased.

“It’s a vi­o­lent game right now be­cause there’s a lot of money wrapped up in this,” said for­mer act­ing ICE Di­rec­tor Tom Ho­man. “I think we’ll see an es­ca­la­tion in the vi­o­lence.”

He said the mix of the surge of illegal im­mi­grants, the in­volve­ment of the Mex­i­can car­tels and the large sums paid — or able to be extorted — for smug­gling have fu­eled the vi­o­lence.

Mex­i­cans reg­u­larly pay fees of $10,000 to be smug­gled across the bor­der, but those from Cen­tral Amer­ica can pay more. Brazil­ians can pay $20,000, and Chi­nese mi­grants are known to pay $70,000 or more to be smug­gled to Mex­ico and across the bor­der.

Other bor­der in­ci­dents this month alone in­clude a mini­van that tried to elude Bor­der Pa­trol agents in New Mex­ico on April 6, swerved to miss a tire de­fla­tion de­vice and lost con­trol, eject­ing two of the 10 mi­grants be­ing smug­gled. Both of them died.

A day ear­lier in Texas, agents tried to stop a GMC pickup, again us­ing a tire de­fla­tion de­vice. That truck was brought to a stop and most of the mi­grants fled, but agents found one per­son un­re­spon­sive. He later died at a hos­pi­tal.

Ear­lier last week, agents star­tled a smug­gler mak­ing a pickup of mi­grants in Cal­i­for­nia. The ve­hi­cle sped off and dragged one of the mi­grants more than 30 feet.

Stash house op­er­a­tors and driv­ers who carry illegal im­mi­grants through bor­der check­points stand to make se­ri­ous cash for their ef­forts.

Fees of $1,000 per illegal im­mi­grant are com­mon for driv­ers, so some­one will­ing to pile five peo­ple into a car’s trunk and back seat can walk away with $5,000 for sev­eral hours’ work. Pros­e­cu­tion de­ci­sions are un­even at best, mean­ing some per­pe­tra­tors are given a pass the first or even sec­ond time they are caught.

In the Ari­zona smug­gling ring from last week’s shootout, au­thor­i­ties have lodged smug­gling charges against four peo­ple: John­son Or­tiz, Regina Ra­mon, Valentina Valen­zuela, 23, and Mr. Jose, the 35-year-old man ac­cused of do­ing the shoot­ing. As of Wed­nes­day morn­ing, no charges stem­ming from the shoot­ing had been filed.

Mr. Mo­rales, the illegal im­mi­grant whose story un­rav­eled the smug­gling ring, said he climbed the bor­der fence the night of March 17 and was pointed north by his foot guide, who told him to walk un­til he got to Sells, a town about 30 miles north of the bor­der, where he should turn him­self in to au­thor­i­ties.

That has be­come a pop­u­lar move for many mi­grants sneak­ing into the U.S. They find Bor­der Pa­trol agents and de­mand asy­lum, count­ing on lengthy le­gal de­lays to give them a chance to dis­ap­pear into the shad­ows as illegal im­mi­grants.

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