Immigration agents Wednesday took into custody 27 more suspected illegal aliens on a flight bound for New York, bringing to 175 the number seized in a three-day crackdown on alien smuggling rings.
Immigration and Naturalization Service officials in Atlanta, whose jurisdiction includes Charlotte, said the 27 were on a Piedmont Airlines flight from Phoenix.The 27, who are from Mexico, Brazil and El Salvador, were taken off the plane during a stopover here at 6:40 a.m., the INS said. They had flown to Phoenix on an America West Airlines flight from Los Angeles late Tuesday, officials said.
"An irate citizen called our office (Tuesday) morning and claimed to be a commuter aboard the Piedmont flight," said David Carmichael, supervisory INS agent in Charlotte. "The source suggested we check Flight 1522."
Thomas Fischer, INS district director in Atlanta, said the aliens caught Wednesday apparently paid $2,000 apiece for the trip, which he described as part of a "massive smuggling ring."
"Los Angeles is literally saturated with aliens," said Neil Jacobs, assistant INS director for investigations in Atlanta. "The word has spread that L.A. is not the place to obtain employment."
Fischer said this was the third time INS agents had apprehended illegal aliens on the Piedmont flight. Fifteen people were caught in Charlotte on Oct. 6, and 17 more Oct. 12, he said.
On Monday, INS agents apprehended 79 suspected illegal aliens aboard an Eastern Airlines that stops in Atlanta en route from Los Angeles to New York.
Sixty-nine more aliens were taken into custody in Los Angeles on Monday night as they attempted to board the same flight.
The INS said a man believed to be a leader of a smuggling ring - Jorge Guzman-Romero, a 42-year-old Mexican - was arrested along with the 69 in Los Angeles.
Immigration officials stressed that several independent smugglers may have been using Eastern's "red eye" Flight 80 to ferry illegal aliens to the East Coast.