Thursday, December 27, 2007

In the Phoenix area, desperate home sellers wind up renting to smugglers

The real estate market in metropolitan Phoenix is slow, as it is throughout the U.S. But in the Phoenix area, some sellers are renting to the first applicant with the cash, and too often the renter turns out to be an immigrant smuggler.

A desperate Phoenix-area man rented his home to a couple who paid the deposit in cash. They didn’t haggle over the price. But it turned out the renters were fronts for smugglers who use the house to hide illegal immigrants, and trashed the house, causing $11,000 in damage. In October, a SWAT team drove an armored personnel carrier onto the lawn and raided the house.

Immigrant smugglers see such opportunities in the nation’s mortgage crisis. They rent homes and use them as stash houses for illegals.

The Phoenix metropolitan area is now believed to have about 1,000 immigrant stash houses, located in places where neighbors would not expect to find illegal immigrants hiding, police said. Arizona is the busiest entry point for illegal immigrants coming through Mexico, and Phoenix's proximity to the border has made it the nation's busiest smuggling hub.

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