Daniel Gonzalez, The Arizona Republic, April 13, 2012
Violent attacks on groups of illegal immigrants being smuggled into the U.S. were common in Arizona several years ago as rival organizations battled over the lucrative immigrant- and drug- smuggling trades.
But such attacks, like the one that left two migrants dead near Eloy on Sunday, have been declining in recent years as a result of a drop in illegal immigration and a crackdown on violent smuggling organizations, law-enforcement officials say.
On Sunday, gunmen wearing camouflage clothing and armed with rifles opened fire on a pickup truck loaded with 20 to 30 immigrants believed to be in the country illegally, killing two people, according to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
[Deputy Dawn] Barkman said violent attacks on groups of illegal immigrants had “decreased significantly” in recent years after the department created a “border crimes unit” in April 2007 to crack down on smuggling organizations.
The unit patrols in remote desert areas used by smuggling organizations to transport loads of drugs and illegal immigrants into the country, she said.
She said it had been five years since the last incident involving a violent attack on a load of illegal immigrants by so-called rip crews, or bajadores.
In March 2007, gunmen wearing dark clothing ambushed a vehicle loaded with more than 20 illegal immigrants near Green Valley, south of Tucson, killing two people.
Three months earlier, four men wearing camouflage and berets and armed with an assault weapon killed a smuggling suspect and wounded another person after ambushing a vehicle in a field about 40 miles north of Eloy in Pinal County.
One of the most high-profile attacks took place in November 2003, when gunmen opened fired on a van carrying a load of illegal immigrants on Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Phoenix. Four people were killed and five others were wounded in that attack.
Allen, the ICE special agent, said rip crews have been around for decades. They wait on the U.S. side of the border to ambush organizations transporting drugs or illegal immigrants across the border and then steal their loads.
He said tighter border security led to an increase in rip crews. But their activity has decreased in recent years due to an overall decrease in illegal immigration.