Child Kidnapping Shows Callousness of Smugglers -- and Desperation of Immigrant Parents

Jose Luis Torres-Pais-Paez and Marcelino Ramirez-Velasquez By Ray Stern

The Guatemalan woman had worked in the United States illegally in the past. Her four-year-old son was born here, but she took him to her home country before moving to Miami a few months ago.

When she decided to bring the boy to the United States, she trusted the same smugglers. But the boy "apparently changed hands" at some point, says Vincent Picard, a spokesman for the local office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.

The 4-year-old ended up in a Mesa motel, kidnapped by thugs who told the mom they'd sell the boy's organs if she didn't scrape up a ransom, Picard says.

It's the third high-profile child kidnapping in as many weeks.

The case ended happily, sort of. ICE rescued the boy in the nick of time. The boy's mother, Marlene Garcia, who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, now faces deportation after calling police to report the threats against her son.

The fact that Garcia would trust smugglers to bring her young son across the border as she sat nervously at home thousands of miles away shocks the sensibilities of average American parents, Picard admits. But in the underground world of illegal immigration, such actions by immigrants are "not uncommon," he says.

Usually when ICE agents see unaccompanied juveniles, it's because the parents crossed through the desert and their young children -- too young for an arduous overland journey -- came through an official port of entry. The smugglers pay legal immigrants to claim the kids as their own as they bring them through the customs checkpoints at the border.

Picard says this latest case is another example of how merciless smugglers see human beings only as a commodity. ICE arrested Guatemalan national Marcelino Ramirez-Velasquez, 34, and Jose Luis Torres-Pais-Paez, 25, of Mexico, on kidnapping, extortion and other felony charges. A Maricopa County grand jury indicted both suspects last week.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern