Tucson shuttle services raided in immigrant-smuggling sweep
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Tucson shuttle services raided in immigrant-smuggling sweep

 Federal agents raided four shuttle companies in Tucson on Thursday in a massive investigation into illegal immigrant smuggling.

"This operation has dealt a serious blow to the infrastructure of some of Arizona's most prolific and profitable human smuggling organizations - organizations that made their money by moving people," Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John  Morton said in a statement.

"The defendants wrongly believed they could operate with impunity by hiding behind the veil of legitimacy these businesses provided.  Using our investigative expertise, we've dismantled these transnational organizations and literally seized the engines that were driving the criminal enterprise."

The four Tucson shuttle services are Saguaro Roadrunner Shuttles, America's Shuttles, Guerro's Shuttles and Nogales Express Shuttles. A fifth shuttle company in Phoenix, Sergio's Shuttle, also was raided.  According to court documents unsealed Thursday, the aliens transported by the shuttle services were given pre-printed fare receipts in the amount of $30 in an effort to make the shuttle trips appear legitimate.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement said in a statement:

Smuggled aliens were transported from the border to various shuttle companies or drop houses in Tucson.  They were then staged at the shuttle businesses or at the drop houses, before being taken by the shuttle vans to various locations in Phoenix.  The aliens paid their smuggling fees, typically using wire transmitters like MoneyGram or Western Union, prior to departing Tucson or, in some cases, after arriving in Phoenix.  Although most of the smuggled aliens identified during the investigation were from Mexico and Central America, others came from as far away as China.

The aliens' transportation beyond Tucson was handled by smuggling organizations in the Phoenix area that provided support services to human smugglers in Tucson and Nogales.  Besides operating drop houses, those services included arranging transportation for the aliens to their final destinations nationwide. The national reach of the Phoenix organizations is underscored by the execution of additional arrest warrants Thursday in Tennessee.

Critics of new Arizona legislation that authorizes local law enforcement to target illegal immigrants said Thursday morning's ICE raid sent the wrong message, reports the Arizona Republic.

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"While we applaud honest law-enforcement work to rid our neighborhoods of smugglers, drug dealers and other dangerous elements, we are concerned about the timing of an ICE operation that seems to be as much designed for media consumption as anything else," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement. "We are worried ICE Director Morton's intense media campaign to publicize this action will only contribute to a climate of fear that is already sending shockwaves across the state and country."

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Phoenix's Channel 12

Frame grab from video on raid in Phoenix.

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