State patrol marks successful first year in illegal immigrant arrests
DENVER As an unmarked van speeds 80 m.p.h. in a clearly marked 50 m.p.h. zone, a Colorado State Trooper switches on the sirens on his patrol car and prepares to make a routine traffic stop. Pulling up behind the vehicle, the trooper calls in the lisence plate numbers to dispatch, approaches the vehicle and asks the driver for a license and registration. When he discovers that the van driver has no license, and the occupants crammed into the back seat are in the county illegally, the routine traffic stop has turned into a human-smuggling bust. This is a scenario that troopers are now prepared for when they patrol Colorados highways. It has been a little over a year since Colorado State Trooper Rob Hampton underwent training to enforce U.S. immigration laws, an added authority that has already proved successful during statewide highway patrols. We go out like any other state trooper to enforce traffic laws, Hampton said. But if we come across any cases we suspect to be human smuggling, we have the authority to take them in.The Interstate 70 mountain corridor has seen numerous cases of human smuggling in recent years and, although there have been no arrests made in Summit County, so far in 2008 Eagle County has reported three incidents involving the smuggling of illegal immigrants.The Colorado State Patrols immigration-enforcement unit was formed in July 2007, after new legislation provided funding for troopers to undergo special training from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.The new unit is comprised of 19 troopers, three sergeants and one section commander spread across Colorado.From an ICE standpoint, it is an extremely productive partnership, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said. It acts as a force multiplier for us, because now troopers can enforce immigration laws while doing their day-to-day duties.In its first year of operation, the new unit made 42 human-smuggling arrests, 183 criminal-alien arrests, and 782 undocumented foreign-nationals arrests statewide.Of the cases investigated by CSP, 33 have been filed in state district court, and seven have been filed for federal prosecution. We dont go out looking for illegal immigrants, because out first priority is to enforce traffic laws, Hampton said. I just like to think of it as another tool in the tool belt. You use the authority when you need to. Hampton has been involved with several human-smuggling arrests in the past year, and says the training he received from ICE has helped him become more efficient when a routine traffic stop turns into smuggling bust. We have a system down that we all learned in training, Hampton said. We know how to deal with smugglers to make sure that we are safe and they are safe. Luckily, all the illegals we have dealt with are very respectful and compliant.Hampton remembers one notable human-smuggling arrest when he pulled over a seven passenger van to find 18 illegal immigrants crammed in the back. Its hard to describe the emotions of the people being smuggled, Hampton said. It isnt so much fear, but more resignation that they have been caught.Human smuggling is quickly becoming a hot-button issue nationwide, and border states like Arizona and California have partnered with ICE to create several immigration units within local law-enforcement agencies. The Colorado State Patrol immigration unit is one of 59 law-enforcement agencies nationwide that has partnered with ICE. Since ICE enacted the program last year, 240,000 illegal immigrants have been deported and 60,000 criminal aliens have been arrested nationally, according to Rusnok. Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at email@example.com.
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