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Iraqi reportedly smuggled hundreds from Middle East across Mexican border New York Times News Service Oct. 25, 2001 10:05:00
EL PASO - An Iraqi-born smuggler led hundreds of illegal immigrants from the Middle East across the Mexican border into the United States in the 1990s, prosecution documents filed in a federal conspiracy trial here say.
The Iraqi, George Tajirian, who forged an alliance with a Mexican immigration officer, smuggled Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and other undocumented immigrants through Mexico and into the United States, sending them to wade across the Rio Grande or pass border checkpoints with counterfeit travel documents from Greece, Mexico and other nations, the prosecutors said.
Tajirian appears to have had no political or other agenda, and prosecutors have provided no evidence that any of the people smuggled by him had terrorist ties. But prosecutors said he had paid little heed to whether his clients were criminals, merely raising his smuggling fees when he became aware of such complications.
The record of prosecution proceedings against Tajirian and Angel Molina Paramo, the Mexican official who prosecutors say was a major confederate, suggest that the Mexican border has been a thoroughfare for hundreds of Middle Eastern migrants crossing illegally into the United States.
Tajirian, who is a naturalized Mexican citizen, was arrested in Miami in 1998, pleaded guilty to smuggling undocumented foreigners in a plea agreement that erased conspiracy and other charges, and is serving a 13-year sentence. Molina was extradited to Texas this spring. A federal judge here accepted his guilty plea last week, also the result of a plea bargain, and sentencing is set for next month. Tajirian's wife, who is a Mexican citizen, and a fourth suspect, a Lebanese woman who ran Tajirian's travel agency in Quito, Ecuador, are fugitives.
The documents pertaining to Tajirian's smuggling operations were presented to the court as part of the case against Molina and the two fugitives. Among the documents was one in which prosecutors said they collected evidence on 132 illegal immigrants Tajirian smuggled into the United States from 1996 through 1998.
The prosecutors estimated that since he began to build his smuggling organization in 1980 he had led more than 1,000 Middle East natives across the southwest frontier.
Tajirian showed "no scruples" in deciding whom he would smuggle into the United States, Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Brandy Gardes wrote in a brief before Tajirian's sentencing in 1998. One citizen of Yemen whom Tajirian brought to the U.S. in December 1997 was wanted for genocide in South Yemen, the prosecutors said. Tajirian, the prosecutors said, was aware of this and, accordingly, raised his fee. A Syrian native who was smuggled across the frontier in September 1996 had a criminal record in Germany.
"The tightening of our borders and our internal security," Gardes wrote, "is a priority and the desire of the American public. The defendant's criminal activity, through its sheer magnitude and cavalier attitude, struck deeply at these goals."
In documents presented to the court, prosecutors said Tajirian routinely charged clients $10,000 to $15,000 or more. They documented earnings of $230,000 from 1996 through 1998, and estimated that he grossed as much as $2 million during that period. Prosecutors say Tajirian is 60 years old. He says he is 70.
Statistics gathered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service suggest that citizens from countries with majority Islamic populations seek to gain entry to the United States illegally much more frequently at the Canadian border. Last year, American agents detained 254 undocumented immigrants, from 16 Middle Eastern countries, Sudan, Pakistan and Malaysia, at Canadian border checkpoints, according to the INS statistics.
By contrast, at the Mexican border, agents detained 90 undocumented immigrants last year from countries with majority Islamic populations: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Pakistan. The Mideast migrants were moving in a human tide that was overwhelmingly Latin. Some 99.9 percent of the 1.64 million undocumented immigrants detained at the southwest border last year were from Mexico and 16 other Latin countries.
The documents presented here detail more than any other case the nature of the smuggling pipeline by which illegal Middle Eastern immigrants cross the Southwestern border.
Tajirian, who was born in Baghdad, came to the United States and settled in Detroit, where he was convicted in the late 1970s for illegal possession of visas and served eight months in prison. Almost immediately after his release, Tajirian began building his smuggling network, prosecutors said.
He recruited Middle Eastern clients in Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Greece, the prosecutors said, and he established travel agencies in Havana and Mexico City as well as Quito. In a typical smuggling transaction, Tajirian would recruit his clients, arrange lodging for them in Greece, Havana, Quito and Mexico City, and eventually arrange for local smugglers in northern Mexico to bring them into the United States, usually at El Paso or Laredo in Texas or through Tijuana, south of San Diego.
-- K (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 26, 2001