A state Assembly panel voted Wednesday for a bill targeting "coyotes" who smuggle people into the United States after hearing attorneys general from both Nevada and Arizona describe widespread problems such as beatings and rapes of victims and violence between rival smugglers.
AB383, by Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, was endorsed by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and her Arizona counterpart, Terry Goddard, during an Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee hearing.
The bill, which is similar to an Arizona law approved in 2005, would impose felony penalties for those convicted of human trafficking. It also could result in revoked business licenses for Nevada businesses convicted of knowingly violating federal immigration laws.
Kirkpatrick brought up the recent indictments in Phoenix, Ariz., of 14 travel agency owners or employees on human smuggling and other charges for allegedly selling airline tickets allegedly for use by illegal immigrants.
Legislators were told by Kirkpatrick, Cortez Masto and Goddard that in many cases those tickets were flights out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to locations throughout the country.
"Most pets are treated better than these people," Kirkpatrick said, describing cases of abuse involving victims who are nothing more than "cargo" as far as the smugglers are concerned.
Goddard also mentioned the recent indictments, and also said more than 600,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed last year just along Arizona's border with Mexico. He said the "coyotes" involved in smuggling collect hundreds of millions of dollars from people trying to enter this country.
"They're not members of Rotary, I can tell you that," Goddard said in describing the smugglers and their drop-houses where people are held prisoner and suffer abuses such as sexual assaults and beatings until they or their families pay for getting them across the border.
If smugglers aren't paid, Goddard said they "think nothing" of killing the person they brought in. He added that half of the murders in the Phoenix area are believed to have been committed by smugglers.
Cortez Masto said Nevada needs a tough law against smugglers so that the activity in Arizona doesn't "bleed over to this state."
The Nevada attorney general also said that in January, more than 200 illegal aliens were stopped at the McCarran airport. She added that the problem is statewide and not just in the Las Vegas area.