ICE cracks down on human smuggling in 'Operation Coyote' - WNEM TV 5

ICE cracks down on human smuggling in 'Operation Coyote'

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said stopping smugglers is one of their top priorities and they said they have a new way to do it.

"When I arrived in 1994, they extorted me out of money," said Antonio Velazquez, who only speaks Spanish. He admits he was terrified when he enlisted the help of coyotes to get him from Guatemala to the U.S., where he knew no one. 

"I had to pay around $2,500 and they wanted more and if I didn't pay, they would try to kill me," Velazquez said.

His story is fairly common, and he was too scared to report it. Now he said things are different. 

"They can call the police, they can call whichever public security agency and they can protect you," Velazquez said.

"We've identified and seized over 288 bank accounts, holding almost $600,000," said Scott Brown with ICE in Phoenix. "That's a pretty significant impact in a month."

Brown said their focus is on following the money. Immigrants pay coyotes fees in stages along the trip and then a final payment is made to a so-called funnel account, which ICE said they can now track thanks to clues left behind. 

"Now what we're seeing is the alien, where they're going, and the bank account number that's been provided to whoever's paying their smuggling fee," Brown said.

Velazquez said while the trip is no safer than it was in 1994, the violence and poverty in Central America is a strong motivator. 

"If there is no legal solution, I think I would do whatever it takes to be with my family," Velazquez said. 

Copyright 2014 CBS5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. 

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