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Tuesday, May 01, 2007
House held 160 illegal immigrants
So-called "stash houses" or "drop houses" are all over Phoenix, Arizona. These are buildings that human smugglers use to hide illegal immigrants.

I've come here to meet Alonzo Pena, the special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. We're about to take a drive around the city to see some of these stash houses.

But first, Agent Pena shows me a city map with little red dots showing where these houses are located. The map is peppered with so many dots that it looks like it's been used in target practice at a firing range. In the first four months of this year, authorities say they have discovered nearly 80 new stash houses.

This highlights a disturbing trend in how human smugglers, or "coyotes," as they are often called, are operating these days. Coyotes are no longer just a border phenomenon, according to federal law enforcement authorities. They're organized like drug cartels and getting more viscious and lethal. And they're moving further north into the United States. (In Houston, one person was killed and two others wounded in a recent midday shootout; federal authorities say rival coyotes may have been fighting over a carload of illegal immigrants.)

Agent Pena says these smugglers fight each other over "loads" of immigrants mostly because there's big money at stake. Coyotes charge Mexican nationals a $1,500 smuggling fee, according to law enforcement officials and immigration activists. For people south of Mexico, the fee ranges from $3,000 to $5,000. Of course, coyotes will often "renegotiate" later, and that's when things can get really ugly.

Agent Pena and I pull up to a beautiful stucco home with a Spanish tile roof. You would never suspect the house was used by smugglers. "I wouldn't mind living in a house like this," Pena says. His agents found 160 illegal immigrants stashed in this house.

-- By Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 5:15 PM ET
  19 Comments
So what happens to these "stash" houses once the illegal aliens have been removed? Maybe if all of these known "stash" houses were demolished, it would be harder for for the smugglers to hide illegal aliens.
Posted By Perry, Dallas, Texas : 5:34 PM ET
Hi Ed,
Smuggling people over the border is quite dangerous. What is the solution? Why Can't we make these people citizens and give them jobs that pay taxes?
This problem is so overwhelming. Illegal Mexicans are all over my town. No one seems to care. They are productive and for the most part law abiding. Why can't they be citizens? I go to church with these people, I shop in their hispanic stores and eat at their 24hour taco stands ( now that is a hoot) they know how to have a fiesta!
I wish we could come to a solution. I have a few families I help out but I would much rather see them working as citizens and not living in fear. These are just humans with families and they want something better for their children than they had. That's all. I think we should help them. I know I do. God bless.~
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 5:46 PM ET
Maybe the laws should be changed so that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency can take possession of these houses when they're found just like they do now with vehicles and property owned by drug dealers. The sale of these homes would then go back into that agency's budget.
Posted By Londa, Grand Prairie, TX : 5:57 PM ET
Ed: I can't help but wonder how healthy or humane it was for 160 illegal immigrants to be stashed or living in one house? Sounds more like a hotel to me.
Posted By Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 5:58 PM ET
Maybe if the governement would make it easier for immigrants to enter the US when there is a valid reason like being married to an American citizen, there wouldn't be so many people risking their lives to come here to be with the one they love.
Posted By Terronda, Bradenton Fl : 7:02 PM ET
I live in the Phoenix area, the house next to mine, in a nice middle class neighborhood, was a drop house. Demolishing it would do no good. But I agree that perhaps the property should be seized and sold at auction. Since the house next to me is also a rental house owned by absentee landlords from California, it might force the owners of these homes to take a more active role in what's taking place in their property.
Posted By MT in Avondale, AZ : 7:04 PM ET
Wow, these criminals are getting kinda pushy!! Now they are "demanding" to be made citizens of the US? I agree with the protesters that say they should be able to keep their families together, but they should keep them together on their side of the border.
Posted By Perry, Dallas, Texas : 8:01 PM ET
I agree with the comment by Londa in Grand Prairie. We have got to take control of this situation. It just keeps getting worse, but congress just doesn't seem to really want to do anything constructive about.
Posted By Judy, Alto, TX : 8:11 PM ET
The coyote's stash houses have moved into the better neighborhoods of late, as you're discovering. Most of the stash houses are rentals, so when a house in your neighborhood becomes a rental you always watch and worry. We've got several HOA communities around where I live that have banned, or strongly discouraged, home rentals in their covenants and restrictions.
Posted By Phebe, Phoenix, AZ : 9:15 PM ET
Once again, I'm left with few words that could register my disgust. Coyotes, having shootouts. 160 people in one house??? Where's Washington when this is going on...Are they all too busy being in a little BLACK BOOK! I'm beginning to see why so many people I know have turned off the nightly news for good. It's overwhelming with a capital O..Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 9:17 PM ET
How disheartening for everyone. How did it ever come to this?
Posted By Ellen, So. Plainfield, NJ : 9:33 PM ET
A restaurant owner was speaking anonymously on the news in Chicago; he admitted he owns a home in which his illegal immigrant busboys live. The home is just for them. He says there's nine or ten at any time, and that they are given meals and of course, rent free of charge. The restaurant owner said he also knows of contractors in the trades who do the same thing.
Posted By xtina - chgo IL : 9:54 PM ET
Ellen from NJ asks how this happened? We should've closed the borders, but since we didn't, build the fence and make them come in the honest (and legal) way. Perhaps people will respect them more.
Posted By Lisa McDougall, NY : 10:01 PM ET
Sounds like we've regressed to the days of the Wild West when laws didn't mean much.

One thing I noticed - the fee to the coyotes. If the situation south of the border is so dire, how in the world do illegals come up with up to $5000 to pay smugglers? I would be hard-pressed to find that kind of money myself - and I've worked and payed taxes for close to 40 years.

I think these criminals should stay in their own country, and use their monies to improve their lives there - don't spend it all to illegally enter the US, and then be a burden.
Posted By Deb, Richmond VA : 11:24 PM ET
Question. Why is it that if a U.S. citizen breaks the law they are punished but if an ILLEGAL ALIEN breaks the law (by virtue of being in the U.S. illegally) they are rewarded with food stamps, medical care, housing, education... ? All of which are the shared burden of the U.S. taxpayers!!! This is madness. I simply cannot understand the logic. It is my opinion that the illegal imigrants should have marched South today, all the way back into Mexico.
Posted By Mike, Rockville, MD : 1:06 AM ET
How did it come to this??? Demolish the stash houses???? Let me add another worthless question. Are you serious????? No need to go destroying the entire south, barricade the Mexican border (like we are doing right now) or look aimlessly for someone to blame. The immigration situation just like about everything else in our great capital venture country is driven by supply and demand. If there were no "illegal" jobs to be had, what do you think is going to happen to illegal aliens, stash houses and coyotes. We can go ahead and make 14 million aliens citizens overnight and that would have solved nothing. We will be having this very same discussion in 10 years. The solution has to go to the root of the problem; the large supply of illegal jobs to be had. If Visa is able to ensure that 99.99% of their transactions are conducted by rightful customers. Don't you think the government would be able to ensure that most jobs are hold by rightful citizens The truth is that the government and the market are happy with the status quo. The first get lobbying dollars to come up with creative and expensive solutions that in turn put money back into their packets and the second gets cheap labor (can not outsource picking up oranges to India). We are the ones that need to be protesting. We need to call our congress reps and hold rallies. Make the current illegal aliens not citizens but temporary legal residents and make sure to plug the "illegal job" loophole. Then we can secure a steady supply of cheap labor by allowing legal temporary immigrants to come and work for a few years. We will know who is living next door and the market will be happy. Not to mention the millions that could benefit by coming to work making money legally and not having to risk their lives at it. And don't even get me started on illegal drugs.
Posted By David Ramirez, Miami, FL : 10:29 AM ET
To Mike from Rockville -
Just so you know...In reality, the 1996 welfare reform bill disqualified illegal immigrants from nearly all
means-tested government programs including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare-funded hospitalization. The only services that illegals can still get are emergency medical care and K-12 education.

You should try and get your facts straight before commenting.
Posted By Mario - Portland, OR : 6:38 PM ET
To Mario in Portland
Just so you know, that is a load of BS. Emergency food stamp funding in the amount of $152 for one adult (without any children) is handed out to anyone who applies for it at our Albuquerque HSD office.And it is granted that same day no matter where you are from. If you have children you get much more.
Posted By Cynthia Wright Albuquerque New Mexico : 3:54 PM ET
This is a reply to the comment posted by Mr. Mario, Portland, OR.

Right. And in 1986 the dummies in Congress passed an amnesty law for illegal aliens in the U.S, and the law stated that this act would result in no more mexican illegal aliens sneaking across our border.

Meanwhile, 12 million illegal aliens later, etc.

So much for laws being passed.
Posted By Don Rogers, San Diego, CA : 4:01 PM ET
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