PHOENIX - The number of so-called drophouses discovered harboring illegal immigrants in the Phoenix area has decreased significantly over the last four years, a trend federal officials said is another indication that human smuggling in Arizona is declining.
There were 490 illegal immigrants discovered in 37 Phoenix area drophouses during the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The Arizona Republic said that compares with 3,221 illegal immigrants found in 186 drophouses in the 2008 federal budget year that ended in September 2008.
The special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations in Arizona, Matthew Allen, tied the decrease to an overall drop in illegal immigration nationwide. He cited the weak U.S. economy, tighter border security, stepped-up immigration enforcement and tougher sentences imposed on smugglers.
Allen also said the number of illegal immigrants being found in individual homes is down, an indication that smugglers are concerned about raids.
"You remember the days here when we were hitting drophouses that had 60, 80 or more than 100 people in them," he said. "These days, it's very rare that we see a drophouse that has more than 20 or 30 people in it."
Still, Allen said, "that doesn't mean that there's none out there."
ICE officials say the typical way station is a vacant house with no beds or furniture. Armed smugglers stand watch over dozens of illegal immigrants who are crammed inside and who sleep on the floor as they await transport to other cities after being brought across the border from Mexico.
Four years ago, the Phoenix area was the drophouse capital of the nation.
"You remember the days here when we were hitting drophouses that had 60, 80 or more than 100 people in them."
special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigations in Arizona