9 On Your Side Border Watch
Immigration & Customs Enforcement: Rip crews a growing problem in Arizona
Deputies still looking for gunmen who shot at truckload of immigrants near Eloy
Reporter: Claire Doan
NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – A deadly ambush in the remote desert. Two immigrants gunned down by a group of armed people in fatigues. And the killer(s) are still on the loose.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is looking for the gunmen who shot at a truckload of immigrants Sunday in a remote area near Eloy. The violent ambush left two people dead and now the search is one for what is likely a rip crew.
So what is law enforcement doing to stop these border bandits?
Bandits, thieves, or opportunists – whatever you call rip crews – they essentially do the same thing: They ambush drug dealers to steal their load or kidnap immigrants for ransom. And the government says they are becoming much more common in Arizona.
“Their principal goal is avoid any smuggling fees or the risk of actually smuggling. They will target the actual smugglers be it contraband or alien loads,” said Rick Crocker, a Deputy Special Agent in Charge at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He told 9 On Your Side rip crews have been around for roughly two decades, but there are more of them now than ever, especially in remote, dangerous areas. These border bandits usually work in small groups, but are not connected to a larger network.
Crock said battling border bandits requires a two-pronged approach from ICE: “We will attempt to proactively identify organizations through informants or intelligence that we develop. We’re also very reactive if Border Patrol encounters a group. We will interview the aliens or backpackers if they have had their loads stolen.”
Rip crews are a growing problem for Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. He said what we hear about is only a fraction of the problem because most incidents go unreported.
“It’s very, very difficult [to arrest rip crews] because of the terrain. It’s very difficult to do that also because of the delays and failure to report these incidents,” Estrada said.
The Sheriff added that his officers can’t patrol the smuggling path that rip crews stake out, given his department’s limited resources, but deputies help Border Patrol when possible in a battle that demands growing resources.
“More boots on the ground, more technology maybe, more cooperation, and more interaction with Mexican authorities so that they can report activities coming across the border,” said Estrada, referring to ways to better combat the border bandits.
Crocker said most of the criminal activity, however, occurs north of the border where these bandits see less risk and more profit.
“They are very opportunistic and they steal whatever they can get their hands on,” Crocker said.
Border Patrol is in charge of arresting these bandits, whom ICE then investigates; both federal agencies work with local law enforcement to gather intelligence.