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Smuggling law gets a conviction
Verdict marks milestone, officials say

Jahna Berry
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 20, 2006 12:00 AM

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office won its first jury conviction Thursday against an undocumented immigrant who paid $700 to be smuggled into Arizona.

Prosecutors say this is a key milestone in the office's efforts to combat illegal immigration.

To date, 161 undocumented immigrants and coyotes have been convicted under the 14-month-old law, says County Attorney Andrew Thomas. advertisement

"It's important for the public to realize that we have had overwhelming success with this," Thomas said, adding that his office anticipates the conviction will be appealed.

Adolfo Guzman-Garcia, 28, faces nearly four years in prison for the crime and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 5.

Guzman-Garcia's defense attorney could not be reached for comment late Thursday afternoon.

While Thomas touted the convictions, his office has had mixed success.

A total of 287 cases have been filed against suspected coyotes and undocumented immigrants; of those, 74 suspects are wanted on bench warrants and have yet to be prosecuted. In one case a jury convicted a coyote under the human-smuggling law.

Eighteen cases, however, have been dismissed, county figures show.

The dismissals include a July case against Antonio Hernandez Lopez, 21, of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, and Gustavo Urbalejo Gomez, 29, of Puebla, Mexico.

Judge Thomas O'Toole of Maricopa County Superior Court tossed the cases, the first such cases to go to jury trial, because of insufficient evidence. O'Toole also heard Guzman-Garcia's case.

Thomas said that tossed cases are part of the learning curve that comes with a new law.

Another hurdle has been enforcement.

Local police departments have given a cool reception to the law. Valley law enforcement agencies have said they have too few resources to pursue the cases and deal with logistics of federal laws on undocumented immigrants.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is the only agency that has been enforcing the smuggling statute, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.

If an undocumented immigrant has a felony conviction, it is very difficult to legally immigrate later, so the crackdown helps stop illegal border crossings, Arpaio said.

The spate of smuggling convictions stems from a law that makes it a crime to help smuggle undocumented migrants.