The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning on creating a statewide network of local police agencies to help federal agents enforce illegal immigration laws.
ICE special agent in charge Alonzo Peña said there are several local and state agencies that want to combat illegal immigration efforts. Efforts so far have been uncoordinated.
“We want to collectively build a shield in Arizona,” Peña said. “ICE wants to take a leadership role, but to be successful it has to be a partnership.”
The effort, in its infancy, is called Arizona Criminal Enforcement Strategy.
Peña said the idea is for ICE to work with different agencies at three areas in the state.
ICE would work with the U.S. Border Patrol at the border by providing intelligence and making sure its efforts complement those of Border Patrol.
ICE typically investigates smugglers while Border Patrol does the interdiction of the people crossing over.
The second layer would be in the Valley, where officers would go after the drop houses, employers, document vendors and the financial infrastructure of the smugglers.
Phoenix is a staging area where border crossers are sent onto different parts of the country, said Cmdr. Dan Wells, who leads a Department of Public Safety task force that combats gangs and illegal immigration.
The third level would involve patroling the smuggling pipelines of northern Arizona.
“We’re going to take three swings at them to stop them,” Peña said.
Some of the known efforts by local and state law enforcement include the offices of the Maricopa County Sheriff and Maricopa County Attorney, who work together to arrest and prosecute suspected illegal immigrants as co-conspirators with the human smugglers.
So far, the sheriff’s office has arrested 425 suspected illegal immigrants, many of whom pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit human smuggling and were put on probation and deported.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has joined forces with ICE, Phoenix police and the Department of Public Safety to seize millions in human smuggling funds that are transmitted through Western Union and other wire services.
Wells said they were able to follow the money to human smugglers, which would lead to the discovery of other crimes.
“We were able to impact the (human smuggling) organizations, but there are so many of them,” Wells said.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors gave approval Wednesday for sheriff’s deputies to be trained by ICE to enforce immigration laws, and DPS is also preparing for its gang unit to get the training.