When investigators encounter a case in which the victim has no discernible connection to smuggling — like the one involving Karely Sauceda — they're particularly concerned.

"A young Latino is kidnapped, and at first you think there must be some connection, but there isn't. [He or she is] a U.S. citizen," Burgett says. "When I get cases like these, man, I think there are so many [kidnapping cases that] what's happening in Mexico is starting to happen here."

A Phoenix drop house where coyotes held more than two dozen illegal immigrants hostage.
Phoenix Police Department/Home Invasion Kidnapping Enforcement
A Phoenix drop house where coyotes held more than two dozen illegal immigrants hostage.
This "torture closet" was used to brutally abuse a Phoenix kidnapping victim whose family could not pay his ransom.
Phoenix Police Department/Home Invasion Kidnapping Enforcement
This "torture closet" was used to brutally abuse a Phoenix kidnapping victim whose family could not pay his ransom.


Despite the potential for violence, immigrants searching for a better existence are lured by coyotes because the risk they face with them isn't greater than the risk of attempting to traverse the treacherous Sonoran Desert alone.

Federal immigration policies in the mid-1990s forced the stream of immigrants heading north into the United States to shift their routes to the Arizona desert when the feds fortified the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso with Operation Hold the Line and in San Diego with Operation Gatekeeper.

"[The feds] were intentionally driving people to Arizona and hoped that they would be deterred by the terrain," wrote Jeffrey Kaye, author of Moving Millions, How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration.

The terrain hardly was a deterrent. More migrants funneled into the country through Arizona because of the lax enforcement and because the rugged landscape offered great cover for smuggling caravans. Also, the feds underestimated the determination of migrants in life-and-death struggles to better themselves and their families.

The increased number of immigrants coming into the state naturally created a burgeoning market for coyotes. As time passed, smuggling operations became more sophisticated and prices for passage went up.

Cartels that were already moving drugs and weapons across the border expanded their trade to include humans. They charged human smugglers "taxes" to use their routes across the border. Or they contracted with human-smuggling rings to move loads of pollos collected from border towns.

And the style of violence that is common in parts of Mexico — where people are gruesomely murdered in broad daylight in public squares — began to seep across the border into Arizona.

Gov. Jan Brewer, among other Arizona politicians, would like the nation to believe that the average illegal immigrant is the driving force behind rampant violent crimes in Arizona. During a televised gubernatorial debate, Brewer said, "The majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are... drug mules."

She and others have no statistics, reports, or evidence, but perpetuate the notion that all illegal immigrants have direct links to drug cartels, work as drug mules, or choose to come here to wallow in lives of crime and violence.

Yet Arizona isn't under attack from average illegal immigrants, who come here to find employment that is virtually nonexistent in Mexico and most of Central America. In fact, it is the immigrants who are under attack — from Mexican cartels, from coyotes, from Arizona, and from the federal government.

Russell Pearce, the state senator who authored the Arizona Senate Bill 1070, has proclaimed that neighborhoods in the state will be safer when all undocumented immigrants are labeled by the statute as criminals. His bill sought to help ensure that, but the heart of 1070 was stymied by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton in a ruling that is certain to be appealed.

Besides, law enforcement authorities, including Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, think 1070 will make it even harder for cops to do their jobs. Already, the victims of smugglers are reluctant to report crimes to police. If all of 1070 goes into effect, even more violent crime will operate under the radar of law enforcement.

The Pearce-inspired statute, many cops say, will only make departments, particularly Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's, go after law-abiding illegal aliens (maids, gardeners, tree trimmers, restaurant workers) all the more, leaving violent smugglers to carry on as usual.

Despite what many law enforcement professionals profess, Pearce insists that if Arizona makes itself as inhospitable to immigrants as possible, all but an insane few will stop coming to the United States illegally.

Pearce shrieks that anybody who wants to come here must do so through legal channels. What he and other zealots ignore is that it's virtually impossible for Mexicans and Central Americans to emigrate here legally.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the federal agency that processes U.S. permanent residency applications, is just now working on applications filed in 1994 by Mexican nationals seeking visas or green cards. These people who followed the rules have already waited 16 years.

Federal law allows 26,260 people from Mexico to receive visas each year. There are more than 1.1 million Mexicans on a waiting list.

Feeble attempts at reform have gone nowhere, or they have been met with fierce resistance. Consider the furor caused recently when a Republican senator released a White House internal memo outlining some administrative actions available to the president to address immigration issues now, instead of waiting for comprehensive reform to make it through Congress.

It had conservative groups and politicos up in arms, claiming President Barack Obama is attempting to grant amnesty to every illegal immigrant in the country. In reality, the suggestions in the memo ran along the lines of possibly allowing immigrants to attain legal status if their spouse, parents, or children are U.S. citizens serving in the military.

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