Human smuggling arrests rise along I-70
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” Recent arrests in Glenwood Springs and Eagle County have proven that human smugglers are using Interstate 70 to transport illegal immigrants across the United States.
There have been three incidents involving human smuggling in Eagle County and authorities have moved to prosecute on two of the cases.
“Human smuggling has always been a problem but now we’re more aware of it,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey. “Many smugglers are coming in through New Mexico and Arizona and are using the I-70 corridor to travel east.”
Front Rage Jefferson County has six reported cases of human smuggling. According to the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, human smuggling is defined as the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person across an international border.
As opposed to trafficking, human smuggling is generally done with the consent of the person being smuggled, and often times these individuals pay large sums of money.
Human smuggling has become a hot button issue in Colorado, and in 2006 the state Legislature passed a bill which made human smuggling a Class 3 felony. In addition to passing laws to increase the penalty placed on those convicted of human smuggling, the state Legislature also provided funding for a special unit in the Colorado State Patrol that works directly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to investigate smuggling cases.
More than 20 troopers went through four-and-a-half weeks of training, which allows them to enforce U.S. immigration laws, said Ron Watkins, a spokesman for the State Patrol.
“In the past our only resource when dealing with human smuggling cases was to wait for ICE to arrive and do an investigation,” Watkins said. “Now the new unit cuts down response time and because of this, there has been an increase in prosecutions and convictions.”
The officers who went through training learned to detect signs that point to human smuggling. Normally, smugglers drive large, unmarked vans that can hold up to seven people or more, and will be carrying foreign documents or maps that indicate a specific destination.
“I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve come across a van load of illegals, so this is nothing new to us,” Watkins said. “Now that it has become such a politically charged issue the state and federal governments are addressing it more.”
Prosecuting human smuggling cases is often times very difficult to do because those being smuggled are usually deported, leaving no witnesses to testify against the drivers.
“Making a conviction in these cases takes a long time and when the illegals who are being smuggled get deported it makes proving these cases very difficult,” Storey said.
Human smuggling will most likely continue to be a problem in Colorado because the compensation smugglers receive usually outweighs the risk involved with transporting illegals across the state, Storey said.
“It’s a cost-benefit thing, and as long as the amount of money they receive outweighs the sentence, they could be facing it will continue,” Storey said.
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