At least 30 illegal immigrants detained in Tempe, Chandler busts

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Suspected illegal immigrants detained in traffic stop along Interstate 10 near Chandler Boulevard By Catherine Holland Suspected illegal immigrants detained in traffic stop along Interstate 10 near Chandler Boulevard By Catherine Holland
Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland
Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland
Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland Suspected illegal immigrants detained outside Arizona Mills Mall By Catherine Holland
Suspected illegal immigrants detained in traffic stop along Interstate 10 near Chandler Boulevard By Catherine Holland Suspected illegal immigrants detained in traffic stop along Interstate 10 near Chandler Boulevard By Catherine Holland

TEMPE and CHANDLER -- At least 30 suspected illegal immigrants are in custody after two separate traffic stops led to busts -- one at Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe, the other along Interstate 10 in Chandler.

The first incident started when the Department of Public Safety tried to make a traffic stop near Interstate 10 and Baseline Road at about 5:30 Friday morning. Some of the occupants of the suspect vehicle got out and fled the scene.

Officers rounded up all but one. That person, a woman, was caught a short time later on the north side of the mall.

Aerial video showed the 15 to 20 detainees sitting around a tree amid several police cars.

The second incident took place about an hour later some five miles away in Chandler.

In that incident, DPS tried to stop a pickup truck that was making unsafe lane changes in the area of I-10 and Ray Road, but the driver took off. The pickup ended up getting back on the highway, driving east on the westbound on ramp to I-10. The driver and three people in the pickup's cab bailed out and fled on foot, but were later caught at a nearby Denny's.

When DPS officers took a closer look at the truck, they found several people hiding under some plywood and blankets.

Aerial video showed at least three people laying the bed of the red pickup, which was facing the wrong direction on the road. According to DPS, 17 people, including two juveniles and three women, were in that truck.

Those detained in Chandler told 3TV's Javier Soto that they had been staying at a drop house in Casa Grande after five days of walking through the desert.

At this point, investigators do not know who the smugglers are.

"We suspect one of them was the driver, but we're unable to prove it at this time" said DPS Sgt. Troy Titzler. "None of the other occupants are willing to identify him."

This isn't the first time DPS has encountered suspected illegal immigrants hiding under plywood covering the bed of a pickup truck.

"This is the third type of arrangement we've seen ... involving a pickup truck and illegals underneath a huge piece of plywood," said Bart Graves of the Department of Public Safety.

One of those incidents took place Thursday morning and involved 13 suspected illegal immigrants. The other incident was about two weeks ago and involved a high speed chase through the West Valley. That bust actually led investigators to a drop house.

DPS does not believe any of these situations, including the two Friday incidents, are related.

"There are a number of different cartels that in the human-smuggling business," Graves said. "They are all just competing with each other."

The suspected illegal immigrants were all turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

No injuries were reported in either incident.