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In Arizona, a crackdown on smugglers' lairs

Targeting lairs for hiding illegal immigrants, law-enforcement officials claim strides in breaking up human-smuggling rings.

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To combat the illicit business of smuggling people into the United States illegally, law-enforcement officials in Arizona are turning a sharper eye on the notorious drop house.

Since Saturday, raids on two drop houses – houses or apartments usually in Hispanic neighborhoods where coyotes, or smugglers, stash their human cargo until they collect their transport fees – netted 135 suspected illegal immigrants in a town southwest of Phoenix, according to police reports. They follow raids on 13 drop houses in the Phoenix area in February – the result of a seven-month probe that led to 48 indictments and the breakup of a human-smuggling ring.

Because metropolitan Phoenix is the largest transshipment hub for illegal immigrants in the United States, targeting drop houses is a key piece of an ongoing crackdown against the smuggling trade. Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), calling it a "savage industry," said in her January State of the State address that state law needs to be strengthened so that officials can prosecute both property owners and property managers who allow smugglers to use a dwelling as a drop house.

Though drop houses are one piece of a complicated smuggling network, targeting them is an important step – akin to confiscating the houses of convicted drug dealers, says Nestor Rodriguez, an immigration expert at the University of Houston, adding that such a crackdown is no substitute for overall immigration reform on the national level.

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