Immigration agents raid AZ van shuttle businesses

Apr 15 2010 - 2:06pm

PHOENIX -- Federal immigration agents raided van shuttle operators in Phoenix and other Arizona cities Thursday in a massive investigation into smuggling of illegal immigrants.

Dozens of agents -- some wearing black hoods over their faces -- swarmed two shuttle business in a strip mall in a heavily Latino neighborhood of Phoenix just west of the state Capitol Thursday morning.

One of the businesses, Sergio's Shuttle, advertises van shuttle services from northern Mexico to cities in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In Nogales, a southern Arizona border town, witnesses told the Nogales International they saw helicopters and federal agents swarming sites downtown. They converged around 8 a.m. on the Union Transportes de Nogales, which houses several shuttle companies and a money-changing house.

Nearby, agents surrounded a duplex with a shuttle van parked in front. There were also reports of raids in Tucson and Rio Rico.

The Arizona Daily Star in Tucson reported that agents raided three sites in the southern Arizona city, making two arrests and seizing seven vans.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Associated Press the raids were part of an "ongoing investigation into allegations of human smuggling." The U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix planned a 1 p.m. MST news conference, and ICE officials would not give any details before the event.

A phone call to Sergio's Shuttle was not answered Thursday morning.

ICE agents seized at least a dozen vans from shuttle companies during the Phoenix raids. They were being loaded onto car carriers at an impound lot midmorning Thursday. Included were new full-size vans emblazoned with the Sergio's Shuttle name and older full-sized and minivans from companies in Phoenix, Nogales, and Tucson.

Arizona is the nation's busiest hub for illegal immigration from Mexico, with hundreds of thousands of arrests a year by Border Patrol agents. Migrants are often brought to the border and dropped off to make a perilous desert crossing into the U.S. before being picked up by human smugglers and taken to drop houses in Phoenix.

 

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