Friday, July 8, 2011

Avondale drophouse yields 23 illegal immigrants, DPS says (The Arizona Republic)

Avondale drophouse yields 23 illegal immigrants, DPS says

by Matt Haldane and Cale Ottens - Jul. 8, 2011 06:30 PM
The Arizona Republic-12 News Breaking News Team

Authorities rescued 23 illegal immigrants from an Avondale drophouse Friday morning, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

When police arrived at the house near 115th Avenue and Buckeye Road, people quickly ran inside the house and locked themselves in bedrooms, said Bob Bailey, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

The home is in what appeared to be a newer Valley neighborhood of the common earth-toned, two-story homes in many communities.

"We find these (drop) houses in all parts of town," said Bart Graves, a DPS spokesman.

The state's immigration task force served a search warrant at the house around 8 a.m.

The task force's job is to "respond to drop houses where extortion and violence are prevalent," Graves said. In this case, weapons believed to belong to the smuggler were found inside the house, he said.

Authorities also discovered poor conditions. The house lacked air conditioning - a dangerous situation since temperatures in the Phoenix area are reaching above 100 degrees daily.

"These are not safe conditions for them," he said.

In addition, the immigrants had walked for miles to cross the border, Graves said.

They had access to water at the house, but because they had walked so far, two men were admitted to a hospital for foot injuries. A woman was also admitted to a hospital for other injuries relating to a health condition, Graves said. She was in serious condition.

One of the immigrants is believed to be involved with MS 13, a gang implicated in at least three homicides. DPS officials said Mario Lopez-Ramirez, 24, ran from officers as they entered the drophouse, and authorities believe he may have been the shooter in a December 2009 attempted murder in Washington, D.C.

The smuggler was also found in the house. Charges are pending.

The 23 illegal immigrants will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation to their home countries, authorities said. The immigrants came from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.

The house had been vacant since May. Neighbors noticed suspicious activity at the house after the previous tenant had moved out, so they contacted the immigration task force, Bailey said.

Asma Malik, 56, who recently moved to Avondale from Chicago, watched as authorities went to the home. She said she hadn't noticed anything. "It was just next door," a shaken Malik said.

"The positive thing out of this is that citizens reported the suspicious activity," Malik said.

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