Feds target shuttle van operators in immigration bust

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Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland
Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland
Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland
Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland
Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland Immigration and Customs agent here in the Valley are taking part in a nationwide and international raid as part of a human smuggling investigation. By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Nearly half a dozen Arizona shuttle bus companies were raided Thursday for allegedly funneling thousands of illegal immigrants into Arizona.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents took 47 people into custody after a nationwide and international raid as part of a huge human smuggling investigation.

Federal agents targeted about 50 shuttle van operators and smugglers who are accused of using the vans to transport thousands of illegal immigrants from the Mexican border to the Phoenix area.

The investigation was dubbed "Operation In Plain Sight" because of the brazen nature of the transportation companies' activities.

Investigators say the operators of four shuttle services in Tucson and a fifth in Phoenix created their businesses solely to help immigrant smugglers move their customers to Phoenix under a veil of legitimacy.

The search locations in Tucson were Saguaro Roadrunner Shuttles, America's Shuttles, Sonoran Shuttles and Nogales Express Shuttles. In Phoenix, a search warrant was served at Sergio's Shuttle, also known as Hermosillo Shuttles, in the area of 29th Avenue and Van Buren Street.

According to court documents unsealed Thursday, the illegal immigrants transported by the shuttle services were given pre-printed fare receipts in the amount of $30 in an effort to make the shuttle trips appear legitimate.

Although most of the smuggled immigrants identified during the investigation were from Mexico and Central America, others came from as far away as China.

Forty-seven people were taken into custody in what authorities characterized as the most comprehensive human smuggling investigation in ICE history.

"This operation has dealt a serious blow to the infrastructure of some of Arizona's most prolific and profitable human smuggling organizations -- organizations that made their money by moving people," said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton. "The defendants wrongly believed they could operate with impunity by hiding behind the veil of legitimacy these businesses provided."