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Schumer to Propose Crackdown on Drop-Houses for Smuggled Immigrants

Maybe the proposal was already in the works, but on Wednesday — the same day The Wall Street Journal reported on the problem of Mexican gangs smuggling undocumented immigrants into the country and then holding them hostage — Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) assured Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that he’d introduce a law to help put a stop to that. Schumer’s proposal would allow agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to seize the houses where the immigrants are being stored if ICE can prove that they’re used by smugglers to hold illegal immigrants. The immigrants are often held hostage until either they or their future employer who paid to smuggle them into the country pays a ransom.

Current U.S. law requires the homeowner to be convicted of a smuggling-related crime before federal agents can seize the house, and ICE agents have complained this makes seizure too difficult.

Schumer’s idea, which is reportedly supported by the Obama administration, is nothing new. Back in July 2005, the Government Accountability Office suggested giving federal agents this civil forfeiture authority, which it already has to confiscate things like boats used to smuggle drugs.

The problem with the proposal, though, as the GAO noted in its report and testimony to Congress, is that most of these houses are rented by smugglers, who themselves often take off before the feds can arrest them, and they become fugitives. It’s not clear what good seizing the house does at that point. Moreover, it’s often not clear whether the owner of the home even knows how it’s being used by its tenants. Presumably that’s why the current law only allows the government to seize the house after proving the homeowner knowingly facilitated the smuggling operation.

“This policy needs to be fixed right away,” Schumer told The Associated Press on Wednesday after a meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “It can put a serious dent in the operations of the Mexican cartels that deal in human trafficking.”

It could also put a dent in the Southwestern rental market, particularly for Mexican renters.

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