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Old 05-02-2011, 03:34 PM
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Default U.S. agents raid suspected Anaheim illegal immigrant drop house

U.S. agents raid suspected Anaheim illegal immigrant drop house
ANAHEIM Federal agents raiding an Anaheim apartment arrested a man suspected of being the ringleader of a maritime illegal immigrant smuggling operation that stretches from San Diego to as far north as Los Angeles County, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reported Monday.
On Friday afternoon, immigration agents discovered what they said was a drop house in an apartment complex in the 3400 block of Ariel Place in Anaheim. They found four men who are suspected of being part of a maritime smuggling operation and nine men still in wet clothes and with sand caked onto their bodies -- who they say were smuggled into the country illegally, immigration officials said.
The arrests were the result of a multi-agency law enforcement operation that started Friday morning, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
Immigration agents tracking the movements of the smuggling organization had expected a smuggling boat to land at Rancho Palos Verdes and were conducting surveillance in the area. However, the boat never arrived because it developed engine problems and stopped in Carlsbad, Kice said. That's where immigration agents discovered an abandoned vessel on the beach.
About six hours later, immigration agents tracked the smuggling van from the Carlsbad site to an Anaheim apartment complex where Kice said they found the drop house, the suspects and their human cargo.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security say the latest operation offers further evidence that maritime human smuggling is escalating and expanding from the San Diego area into Orange and Los Angeles counties. Recently, suspected human smuggling boats have come ashore as far north as Malibu.
One of most recent incidents was on Feb. 14, just off of Dana Point, where the crew on the Haddock Coast Guard cutter in coordination with U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended 18 people on a small boat who had entered the country illegally.
Many of these boats are apprehended in the San Diego area. But as federal agents have become more successful there, smugglers have been increasingly inching their way north, officials say. In early February, agents apprehended a boat at San Onofre State Park with 18 people on board. In December, a smuggling boat washed up on the beach at Crystal Cove State Park.
"The surge in maritime smuggling here in the Los Angeles area poses a significant security and safety threat, which is why it demands an aggressive response," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles in a written statement. "We know these criminal organizations' clients include previously deported felons and others we don't want in our communities. Beyond that, there are serious safety issues for the smuggled aliens themselves, who are being transported in overloaded, often unseaworthy boats, risking injury or even death."
At Friday's operation, agents arrested the following men on suspicion of conspiring to bring, transport and harbor people who are in the country illegally.
Mario Echeverria, 24, a U.S. citizen, is suspected being one of the ringleaders of the maritime smuggling organization.
Javier Gomez-Dominguez, 30, of Mexico, is suspected of being the caretaker of the Anaheim drop house
Jose Sevilla, 26, of Mexico, is suspected of being the captain of the smuggling boat
Fermando Medina-Gonzalez, 43, of Mexico, is suspected of being the smuggling boat navigator and fuel man
All four are scheduled to make an appearance in federal court Monday.
Immigration officials said they believe the organization has been active in maritime human smuggling. Agents have been tracking the smuggling operation for several weeks, which led them to spot the van that ultimately took them to the Anaheim apartment complex.
In an attempt to combat the smugglers, authorities last year formed the Orange County/Los Angeles County Maritime Unified Command to focus specifically on ocean-based smuggling activity. ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Customs and Border Protection, the sheriff's departments of Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Los Angeles Police Department make up the Maritime Unified Command.
Read about a sea crew trying to stem the human-smuggling tide.
Last fiscal year, federal agents intercepted a record number of watercraft 110 and people 867 trying to sneak into the country illegally. Those numbers are about double what they were the previous year, according to records dating back to when they first started tracking the data in 2008.
Numbers so far this year suggest the record may be broken again. As of mid-February of this fiscal year, federal agents have apprehended 265 people in 40 smuggling vessels including three boats off south Orange County.
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