Smugglers of Illegal Aliens Gunning for Each Other Near Mexican Border

By John Gilliland | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - The sight of rival gangs shooting at each other is hardly unique in America, but when the cargo prompting the gun battle is a group of illegal aliens being smuggled from Mexico into the U.S., the news provides momentum for an Arizona congressman trying to convince colleagues of the need for immigration reform.

Four people were killed and five wounded in this week's gun battle that closed much of Interstate 10 in the heart of Phoenix. Three others were hurt in a traffic accident caused by the shooting, according to investigators.

Pinal County Sheriff Roger Vanderpool, working with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, believes the gunfire erupted after one group of smugglers tried to hijack a load of illegals from another gang, part of their ongoing turf war in the highly lucrative trade in illegal aliens.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the incident in his home state reaffirms the need to pass his wide-ranging immigration reform bill, the Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act. Flake said his bill would curtail the smuggling-for-profit operations. "We haven't sealed the border. We've only made it more costly to come over. Coyotes (smugglers) average $1,500 for each immigrant," Flake said.

Under Flake's proposal, which is co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and supported by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would-be illegal immigrants could apply for a fraud-proof guest worker visa instead of going the often-dangerous route of being smuggled into the country. Such a plan would be effective by "taking the money out of the hands of smugglers," Flake said.

Critics disagree. David Ray, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the proposed guest worker program is a stealth amnesty bill that would not only give illegals already working in the U.S. an unfair advantage over those trying to get in legally, but it would also backfire, giving foreign nationals an incentive to get in illegally and take advantage of the program.

"This is simply earning your green card on the installment plan," Ray said. "Congress should have learned, by now, that if you give people what they wanted when they came illegally in the first place, you only encourage more to come."

Flake said nothing could be further from the truth. "If this proposal becomes law, illegals already here would have to pay a substantial fine and would be disqualified for a guest worker visa for six years," he said. Flake did acknowledge, however, that existing illegals would not be deported.

The legislation "does nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants over the Mexican border," according to Ray. "There is no border enforcement enhancement component, no national security benefits and it will put downward pressure on wages, robbing hard-working Americans of much-needed pay. We are seeing that downward spiral now in the high-tech labor sector. Under the H-1 visa program that encourages the importation of skilled labor, wages are dropping between 15 and 30 percent," Ray added.

Flake's bill would also "displace American workers by allowing employers to import cheaper foreign guest workers," Ray said.

But Flake said he would protect the jobs that current Americans desire by requiring employers to make the jobs available only to legal residents for a set time period. Ray countered that employers "looking to cut labor costs would simply advertise a position at minimum wage, regardless of the prevailing U.S. wage for that job, and claim to be unable to find an American worker to fill that position."

Meanwhile, McCain calls Flake's bill "a necessary life-saving tool," pointing out that: "Too many migrants from Mexico, the home of most illegal immigrants in the U.S., are dying in the southwestern deserts just to secure a better life."

While the debate continues, so does the violence. Two weeks ago, a couple waiting at a stoplight in Scottsdale, Ariz., was gunned down in an apparent attempt to keep them from going to police with information about the smuggling trade. Since March, at least eight people, including smugglers themselves, have died as a result of the illegal alien trade, according to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Would-be immigrants unable to meet the exorbitant fees charged by the smugglers have also been found murdered.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials say a task force designed to put a halt to the violence is being formed. An official announcement detailing the task force is slated for Monday.

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