One-Thousandth Illegal Immigrant Prosecuted Under State's Human Smuggling Law


Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas touted his 1,000th conviction for an illegal immigrant under the state's three-year-old human-smuggling law.

The number was reached only because Thomas has prosecuted nearly 900 illegal immigrants for conspiring to smuggle themselves into the country. Lawmakers who wrote Arizona's human-smuggling law intended it only to aid law enforcement in prosecuting smugglers, but Thomas had different ideas.

Thomas saw the 2006 smuggling law as his vehicle to fulfill his 2004 campaign promise to do something about illegal immigration. Longstanding conspiracy statutes allowed a novel interpretation of the new law -- the ability to charge smugglees with smuggling, based on the concept that they conspired with the smugglers. Despite an outcry by supporters of illegal immigrants, the court system has backed Thomas on the issue at every turn.

Whether the result has been worth the time, effort and money -- hard to tell. Combined with Sheriff Joe Arpaio's sweeps for illegal immigrants, the county's approach has created more fear of deportation among immigrants -- but not enough to deter their desperate search for First-World employment.

The program hasn't been cheap, either: As New Times reported last July, the first 750 immigrants prosecuted under the law cost taxpayers $5 million in jail expenses alone. By the same formula, jailing the last 250 has cost the county an additional $1.7 million. Hundreds of the1,000 illegal immigrants processed this way have probably snuck back across the porous border.


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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.