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Immigrant smuggling ring stopped

Harrison County Police Officer Marty McClanahan, Milltown Chief Marshal Ray Saylor and Corydon Chief Marshal Jim Kendall worked with federal agents to stop a human smuggling operation in Corydon, Milltown and elsewhere in Harrison County.
Charges have been filed against certain Hispanic ‘coyotes,’ or people who deal in human trafficking, but other details of the operation cannot be released at this time, Saylor said. Arrests have been made, and warrants are out for others.
Saylor spoke in general terms about the operation at last week’s meeting of Community Unity at the Gerdon Youth Center in Corydon. He said this is the first case in Indiana where federal agents from U.S. Customs, the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Services ‘ all part of Homeland Security ‘ have worked closely with local police to stop a human smuggling ring, file federal charges and make arrests.
Saylor said it was important to get the word out about human smuggling so churches, civic groups, community service organizations and others who normally respond to pleas for help would be extra cautious when they are approached by strangers who say, for example, that they need money, clothes and toiletries for migrant workers.
Saylor said the first priority of the agents and the local police is to make sure that the immigrants brought here by the coyotes are safe, not being held against their will or under false pretenses, and have all their rights as guaranteed by state law and the U.S. Constitution. He said the police want to stop human trafficking. Prosecuting immigrants for illegal entry into the this country is not their top priority at this time, he said.
The U.S. Dept. of Justice says human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Human smuggling is becoming an increasingly severe problem in this country, particularly along the 2,100-mile border with Mexico, where thousands enter the U.S. illegally each year, most aiming to find work and/or a better way of life.
Saylor said they often pay exorbitant fees to be smuggled in. Men, women and children are transported by coyotes, sometimes armed with automatic weapons, to various towns and cities in cars, truck trailers and vans, some of which (like fuel tanker trucks) are outfitted specifically for hauling large numbers of people, sometimes in inhuman conditions. The immigrants may wind up in a ‘hotel’ or holding area, where families are often split up and sent to various destinations.
At their new home, the immigrants are often linked up with jobs, for which they have to pay a fee, but staying at the house they share with other immigrants also has expenses. They must pay rent, pay for TV and phone privileges, pay to use the washing machine, pay for toilet paper, CARE packages, and so forth. If they object to the coercion, their family back home may pay the price with their lives, Saylor said. The fees always go up, not down.
Sexual exploitation is another related problem.
Saylor said breaking up the local operation was a result of lead officer McClanahan’s persistence and an INS officer taking an interest. ‘There was a lot more going on here than any one of us could have imagined,’ Saylor told the C.U. group. ‘It’s a billion-dollar operation throughout the United States.’
The smuggling takes place on a daily basis on major transportation arteries like Interstate highways 64, 65 and 70, but the problem is far worse in places like Southern California, where human smuggling involves many ethnic groups and well-organized international gangs.
Asked if local Hispanics who are here illegally will be unlikely to tell police about human smuggling, Saylor said the immigrants involved were handled with ‘dignity and respect’ so local Hispanics may feel they can trust local police officers.
‘We have a good rapport with the Hispanic community because of this,’ Saylor said.
With the local bust and concurrent research, Saylor said he, McClanahan, Kendall and other officers have had their eyes opened to the extent and nature of human trafficking. ‘We are getting educated. We had no clue. We’re sharing everything we’ve learned with other law enforcement people.’
The Washington Post says immigrant smuggling on the U.S.- Mexican border has become ‘a multi-billion-dollar industry increasingly controlled by large, well-organized syndicates,’ despite vastly increased efforts by the U.S. to control the illegal influx.
Mexican officials are investigating at least two dozen human smuggling gangs, the Post said. At least 57 organized bands have been identified.