JANUARY 11, 2007
A powerful legal tool useful in deterring Mexican immigrant smugglers by freezing their money has been struck down by a judge in a state that is considered to be the nation’s busiest illegal alien entry port.
Using special court orders, Arizona’s Attorney General has through the years seized $17 million in wire transfers to the state that were payments to smugglers. Information gained from the money wires has led to the arrest of more than 100 smugglers, who usually demand the money get wired in advance or hold the human cargo hostage until it is.
Because the Arizona program has been so successful in deterring smugglers, many have diverted funds to other states so Arizona’s Attorney General obtained a warrant to intercept suspicious wire transfers of $500 or more between 28 states and dozens of places in the Mexican city of Sonora that could be part of Arizona’s multi billion-dollar human smuggling business. More than $200,000 were seized in the first three days of the program.
This week a Maricopa County judge struck down the practice because it violates constitutional protections on interstate and international commerce. In his seven-page ruling the judge also wrote that Arizona officials didn’t show that the wire service customers in question were involved in crimes. The suit was initiated by the money wiring service company Western Union, a “trusted friend of the Latino community.”
A separate civil lawsuit has been filed by an immigrant-rights group in Phoenix that contends all of the Attorney General’s seizures are illegal even though the money is always released to those cleared of wrongdoing. One Democratic state lawmaker says that is “intimidating for those folks who perhaps may be here undocumented.”
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