Immigration officials were called in when Iowa law-enforcement authorities stopped a vehicle full of illegal aliens Wednesday morning on the interstate at the Colfax exit. Tim Counts is spokesman with the regional office of “ICE,” which came to take custody of the suspects. Counts explains the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency includes the investigative functions of the former INS, and the former Customs Service. That gives it a big job, he says, everything from people who are in the country illegally to US citizens who produce kiddie porn and distribute it on the Internet. When Colfax police reported they’d stopped a van headed to Chicago, ICE was the agency that responded. They’re processed, put into “removal” or deportation proceedings when it’s determined they’re in the country illegally, and spent the night in one of the jails in the Des Moines area in which the federal agency rents space. If they want a hearing before an immigration judge, they can request one, and the preparations begin to return them to their home country. He says it happens more often than we may realize. Last fiscal year, of Iowa’s four ICE offices, the one in Des Moines arrested 193 people in twelve different smuggling loads. He says it looks like that number may be on the increase for this year. Most often the routes cross the state, taking illegals across Iowa on their way to bigger cities farther east where they seek jobs. He says often the people are not treated well. The people who were crammed into this van, he says, hadn’t stopped for hours, and their one urine jug was filled to overflowing. “When they were apprehended by our agents, they said ‘We’re hungry, we haven’t eaten in three days,'” he says, and they asked for food. He says the people who buy and drive the vehicles don’t care ab out the people they’re smuggling. What they care about is money, he says, and people they can turn into cargo they carry for profit. He says unfortunately it’s frequent that these vehicles are involved in wrecks, and since they’re crammed with so many people often there are serious injuries and even deaths. Often the drivers have been on the job for 15 hours or longer, there are no seatbelts, and it’s not pleasant or safe for any of the people involved. Earlier this month three people were killed instantly and seven others critically hurt in a collision on Interstate-80 near Earlham that involved a slow-moving mini-van packed with illegal immigrant workers.
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