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18 Seized as INS Smashes Alien Smuggling Ring

January 22, 1986|PATRICK MCDONNELL | Times Staff Writer

SAN YSIDRO, Calif. — Capping a six-month investigation, U.S. immigration authorities said Tuesday that they have broken up a sophisticated smuggling ring that funneled thousands of illegal aliens into the United States, mainly to work on San Joaquin Valley farms.

Although most of the aliens were Mexican nationals, authorities said the organization extended as far south as Guatemala, where aliens were recruited to provide farm labor in California. The ring--18 of whose members were arrested here--was a "major supplier" of farm workers to labor contractors in the San Joaquin Valley, said Harold Ezell, western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Additional arrests are expected.

Immigration officials likened the operation to a "conglomerate" of three smuggling rings that brokered alien labor, depending on the demand. If one branch of the organization could not provide the labor, officials explained, another branch would be contacted and asked to fill the order.

"This was a very sophisticated operation," Ezell said at a news conference here. "They were operating a form of slavery, brokering human beings."

Among the 20 vehicles already seized in the operation was an 18-foot truck with a secret compartment that could hold up to 50 illegal aliens, authorities said. The truck was seized in San Diego Monday night, and 25 aliens on board were arrested, the INS said.

Officials said the ring, based in San Diego, had been in operation for as long as five years. The smugglers were moving as many as 400 illegal aliens each week into the United States and earning weekly profits of more than $100,000, officials said. Aliens paid about $300 each to be transported from Tijuana to various job sites in California, said officials, who added that the price was much higher for aliens seeking to travel from the Mexican interior or Guatemala.

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