Phoenix or Busted

The Valley is now the prime way station for ruthless smugglers engaged in the lucrative trafficking of human cargo -- illegal immigrants

"Most of it's a result of routine traffic stops . . . where you walk up to the car and there's 20 people inside piled on top of one another," says Bisbee police sergeant Phil Eastburn.

"A few weeks back, though, we had an officer sitting in his car, doing paperwork, and a Winnebago drives by so loaded down its rear bumper was dragging and throwing sparks. He opened the door and there were 71 people inside."

Eastburn says his department often turns up evidence of organized smuggling operations during vehicle searches.

Colosio arrived at his mother's house in central Phoenix just days after crossing the border in Agua Prieta.
Paolo Vescia
Colosio arrived at his mother's house in central Phoenix just days after crossing the border in Agua Prieta.

"Notebooks, phone numbers, addresses . . . we get a fair amount of it, but little of what we find is related to Tucson," he says. "They're all headed your way."

More than a week after the night of the dust storm, Jorge Colosio finally made it to Phoenix. Now he sits in a plastic chair near a washer and dryer in a central Phoenix trailer park, wearing baggy jeans and an Adidas tee shirt, waiting for the rest of the contents of his Nirvana bag to finish a spin cycle.

He spent much longer than the promised 30 minutes on foot. Colosio says it took him two days to walk from Agua Prieta to Bisbee with 10 companions. They ran out of food and water after a day, and it took them another day to make it through the desert to a newly arranged pickup point.

He's obviously worn from the journey, and has developed a slight cough since he was last seen outside the Hotel Yolanda.

Colosio walks slowly to the cramped trailer where he's staying with his mother and stepfather.

The small trailer is hot and the window air conditioner offers little respite. The ceiling is low, and bed sheets are hung as drapes, leading down to a stained carpet. The couch is covered with a bright Mexican blanket. Above it is a minimalist black and red painting with one word printed at the bottom: Freedom.

Colosio says coyotes held him in a safe house near 10th Street and Van Buren when he arrived, and that they pushed and hit him when he couldn't produce the money he owed.

But when his captors left a door unlocked one day, he fled, running all the way to his mother's house.

"They leave you locked up with no food and no water," he says.

In his hands, Colosio holds Polaroid photographs of one inspiration for his flight. His 2-year-old son, Jorge Jr., lives in Phoenix with Colosio's ex-wife. He has his son's initials tattooed on his neck.

"He's gotten so big," Colosio says.

Jorge Jr.'s toys are scattered around the living room for when he comes to visit his grandma, Lila. Lila works as a hotel housekeeper, and in a Laundromat. Her two jobs pay the $450-a-month rent on the trailer, and she still has to have money to help put her kids through school in Culiac#aacute;n. Her dyed red hair is cut to the shoulders, and she shows a capped tooth readily with a kind smile. She says she didn't realize her son was coming, and she is proud of him for making a successful journey.

"I was surprised," she says. "None of my other children would make this trip. He is brave."

Lila made the trip herself across the Tijuana border nine years ago. She married at 14, and by age 32 this mother of four was looking for adventure in a new country. Her girlfriend convinced her it would be safe to hire a coyote. Tears well up in the corners of her eyes and she lets them slide across her high cheekbones. The passing of nine years has not dulled the memory of her passage to the promised land.

She was raped by the coyote who had guaranteed her a safe journey to the U.S.

"They are bad," she says. "The coyotes are bad."

And the smuggled people are at their mercy. On March 5, a 31-year-old Mexican woman called Mesa police to say two coyotes were holding her son hostage in a van because she couldn't come up with the $800 she owed them. The two coyotes were arrested. The mother and her son will be allowed to remain in the U.S. to aid in their prosecution, then sent back to Mexico. (Undocumented immigrants are typically reluctant to report any crime, even when they're victimized, because they fear being deported as a result.)

Colosio has no intention of returning to the safe house to pay off the coyotes. As a result, he'll undoubtedly be looking over his shoulder.

He plans to stay in Phoenix, work and save money until the holiday season.

His mother hands him a stack of quarters and he lumbers back outside to the laundry machines. He points around the neighborhood and says at night it becomes a different place.

"There's a lot of drugs, a lot of crime and a lot of police," he says.

But until December, it's his home away from home.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address:

Contact Amanda Scioscia at her online address:

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