Last fall, 17 illegal immigrants fled a Phoenix drophouse after beating their captor’s head with a clothing rod, says the Arizona Republic. Last month, that “coyote” was sentenced to 31 years in prison for tying up his human cargo and threatening to kill them at gunpoint if their families didn’t pay ransom. The team that made the case, the first of its kind in the country, spotlights a new strategy: Raiding drophouses and tracking down all those involved to dismantle the most vicious human-smuggling rings.
The recently formed task force of federal, state and local detectives, called IIMPACT Arizona, sends investigators from its Phoenix headquarters when they get word that people are beaten, raped, or shot at a drophouse. So far, the task force has probed 25 drophouses and arrested 81 coyotes, 71 felony suspects and 374 illegal immigrants. The effort reflects a growing recognition that human-smuggling has become so prevalent and violent that federal agents don’t have enough staffing to work alone. ICE has opened in Phoenix the nation’s first center to collect, analyze and share immigration-intelligence leads among agencies. Arizona is a natural place to launch cooperative efforts because the level of violence and expansion of drophouses eclipses other border cities.