Troopers bust large immigrant smuggling operation

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by JESSICA HOLLOWAY / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

kvue.com

Posted on October 22, 2012 at 6:26 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 22 at 6:41 PM

TRAVIS COUNTY -- Investigators busted a large smuggling operation

According to a stack of arrest affidavits filed in Travis County, Austin police along with the Department of Public Safety, immigration and other federal agents arrested a man who lives in a house in South Austin. He's one of several people accused of smuggling undocumented aliens from Mexico. He and others are accused of smuggling undocumented aliens from Mexico and accepting thousands of dollars in return.

Families say the neighborhood is a quiet, nice place to call home.

"I've never had a problem. Nobody's ever broken into my house. We all know each other," neighbor Mary Suniga said.

"A total surprise. We haven't any problems with those people," said Israel Lopez, the neighborhood association president.

No one answered the door at the house when KVUE arrived. We're told a family lived there.

"Older gentleman and his wife, a couple of kids, just regular neighbors," said Lopez.

According to the affidavits, more than a dozen people, "coyotes," conspired to steal trucks, cars and SUV's from cities in Texas, including Austin. They used them for smuggling people.

Court records show they'd pick up illegal immigrants from Catarina near the Texas border -- a small community known for immigrant smuggling.
 
Investigators say the coyotes would travel along I-35 and Highway 183 and also used several county roads to stay off main thoroughfares.

Sonia Ansari is an immigration and citizenship lawyer in Austin. "There's so many smugglers, so many coyotes operating along the U.S.-Mexico border. They have such a limited number of resources. What they do is go after the ones that are harming people," she said.

Court documents reveal this investigation began a year ago.  Investigators believe more than 35 undocumented workers were smuggled at any given time, and the coyotes were able to make tens of thousands of dollars.

The Department of Homeland Security is also investigating.

As for the neighborhood, children get off the bus like normal, and families say they never noticed a thing.

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