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INS targets Arizona, Nevada airports to fight smuggling of illegal immigrants Police arrest a suspected illegal immigrant who they say was smuggled into Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix August 10, 2000 Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EDT (0500 GMT)

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'Duckling' behavior a tip-off

INS teams ready to travel --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PHOENIX (CNN) -- Hours after "Operation Denial" was launched, dozens of illegal immigrants were picked up at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, a place that immigration agents say has become the "gateway" to the rest of the United States.

Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner Doris Meisner announced the new immigrant smuggling crackdown Wednesday. The operation will put dozens of agents from across the country at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and the Arizona airport. The goal, she said, was to disrupt the operation of smugglers by "denying them access to corridors and the networks that make the movement of their human cargo possible."

Strengthened INS enforcement on the Mexican border has prompted ruthless and violent smugglers, who once used only cars and trucks, to resort to air routes to smuggle migrants into the United States, officials say.

Meissner's decision to highlight the latest enforcement action stems from growing INS concern over increasing violence associated with human smuggling in the Southwest.

'Duckling' behavior a tip-off Immigration agents said many of those arrested at the airports had paid guides known as "coyotes" $1,200 each for plane tickets.

Authorities said they're concentrating on passengers who fly one-way, in early morning or late at night, and on those who have no luggage or carry-on bags.

Smugglers often buy one-way tickets for rows of seats to cities such as Chicago, Los Angles and Dallas, then bring illegal immigrants aboard just before take-off.

As a result, groups being led through airports are getting extra attention.

"It's almost like a mother duck and a lot of little ducklings falling right in line behind them -- they don't know their way around the airport," said Henry Woodrum, chief of investigations at the Phoenix INS office.

INS teams ready to travel An INS mobile response team will be formed to react to changes in smuggling patterns prompted by the tightening of the airports in Phoenix and Las Vegas, the agency says.

Immigration officials said agents will also target so-called "safe houses" in the Phoenix area that will likely start filling up as the airport routes get cut off.

In recent weeks, safe houses have been the scene of violence, as smugglers seek to steal each others' human cargo. Four people have been killed.

INS officials say they are striving to end violence and abuses by alien smugglers, and to restore security to communities throughout Arizona.

Although they expect to stop about 80 percent of the illegal immigrants moving through the Arizona and Nevada airports, they concede that hundreds more will probably slip through on a daily basis.

CNN Correspondent Charles Zewe and CNN Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

-- K (, August 10, 2000

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