A major cell of a human smuggling ring has been dismantled. Investigators believe the cell to be responsible for the transportation of thousands of undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Phoenix and other locations throughout the country.
Wednesday, nine people were arrested after a yearlong investigation. While the nine have yet to be formally charged, they are being accused of picking up undocumented immigrants after they cross the border on foot, and taking them to “drop houses” in Phoenix while they await transports to other parts of the country.
A man calling himself Mark Rodriguez-Banks led the group of smugglers. Authorities are still trying to determine whether he gave his real name and whether or not he himself is in the country legally.
Rodriguez-Banks was responsible for the providing the vehicles used in transporting the immigrants from the border to Phoenix.
Some of the 62 vehicles seized Wednesday were disguised as flower delivery trucks or of those belonging to a carpet cleaning business.
The group of smugglers appears to have “specialized” in smuggling people from Central America, as many of their customers came from Guatemala. Last year, the smugglers were involved in two cases involving resisting arrest, fleeing law enforcement, aggravated assault on an officer and endangerment.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, Arizona is the busiest unlawful entry point for human and drug smugglers. Arrests along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border account for 40 to 50 percent of all immigrant arrests each year.