Human smuggling arrests increasing along Interstate 70 | SummitDaily.com
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Human smuggling arrests increasing along Interstate 70

ASHLEY DICKSON
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Recent arrests in Glenwood Springs and Eagle County have proven that human smugglers are using the Interstate 70 corridor to bring illegal immigrants into the United States.

In 2008, Eagle County has reported three incidents involving human smuggling and have moved to prosecute on two of the cases. There have been no prosecuted cases of human smuggling in Summit County.

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 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.”

Jefferson County has six reported cases of human smuggling and local District Attorney Mark Hurlbert acknowledges it could be a potential problem in Summit County.

“We’ve been seeing cases in Eagle and Clear Creek counties, and I don’t think smugglers are going down a rabbit hole so it’s a definite possibility we will be seeing them here in Summit,” Hurlbert said.

Human smuggling has become a hot button issue in Colorado, and in 2006 the state Legislator 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 (ICE) to investigate specific human smuggling cases.

According to Ron Watkins with the Colorado State Patrol, 22 officers went through four-and-a-half weeks of ICE training, which allows them to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

“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 pick up on indicators 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.

According to Storey, 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.

“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.

This legislation creates the crime of smuggling of humans. A person commits smuggling of humans if he or she assists another person to enter, remain, or travel through the United States or Colorado in violation of immigration laws in exchange for money or anything of value. A separate offense is created for each person smuggled. Smuggling of humans is a Class 3 felony. The bill establishes a five-year appropriation. The fine penalty for a Class 3 felony is $3,000 to $750,000.


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