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Local Police Team Up with Federal Immigration Officials

In Phoenix, 10 federal immigration officers work with the local police department to investigate crimes that involve illegal immigrants. As more cities mull such collaborations, proponents say they help both agencies, but critics worry that they deter some crime victims from coming to police.

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    On a recent afternoon, Lieutenant Benny Pina sped out to a crime scene on the outskirts of Phoenix.

  • BENNY PINA, Phoenix Police Department:

    What we have been told from the patrol officers that first responded is that we have got a single male victim that appears to be bound in some manner.


    Pina heads the Phoenix Police Department's homicide unit. Not far from the corpse, inside a command post, a sergeant briefed investigators.


    What we have as far as our victim, Hispanic male, 25 to 35 years old, and looks like he's been there a few days. And he was handcuffed with black handcuffs behind his back.


    What's noteworthy about this case is that two of the investigators are federal agents from ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    The collaboration comes as communities across the country debate how closely local police should work with federal immigration officials and immigration law. Nationally, state and local police occasionally team with ICE to arrest migrant gang members and sexual predators.

    But, in Phoenix, 10 ICE agents are assigned full-time to the police department to work with detectives on violent crimes.


    He's got some bleeding on the trees. And we're pretty sure that he was shot here.


    Alonzo Pena is the special agent in charge of ICE operations in Arizona. Pena says his priority is to target violence associated with migrant smuggling. He says state and local agencies are valuable partners.

  • ALONZO PENA, U.S. Immigration And Customs Enforcement:

    Many times, they're the first one to receive a call of a drop house in their community. They're the first ones to respond to a scene where someone's been assaulted. And we have to have partnerships. There's no way one agency can address this alone.


    Violence related to smuggling, both of humans and drugs, has increased in recent years. The Arizona desert has become a main corridor for smugglers and migrants. The traffic shifted as the U.S. fortified parts of its southern border.

    Pena says smugglers often extort money from border crossers and steal groups of migrants from each other.


    We're seeing that, that the smugglers in the desert will try to hijack a load. They shoot first. They will shoot the driver. They will shoot at the vehicle.

    In these drop houses, we have had everything from where they pull people's fingernails out to make them — to force them to make phone calls to their responders to send money, to putting guns in people's heads and in their mouths, to pistol-whipping them, to forcing some of the women that are being held to have sex with the smugglers.