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Extortionists in Mexico target immigrant families on U.S. side

September 25, 2008 |  9:12 am

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It appears that Mexico's kidnapping craze is crossing the northern border. Kidnappers in Mexico are extorting money from immigrant families living in the United States as their family members try to cross the border illegally, according to this Associated Press report.

The culprits behind so-called 'virtual kidnappings' typically strike when illegal immigrants make the three- to four-day journey through the remote desert, where they are cut off from communicating with family members. Relatives are told to cough up thousands of dollars or their loved ones will be maimed or killed.

'It's just an extension of what happens in Mexico,' said Armando Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, where the trend first appeared five years ago and has escalated to an average of one case being reported each week.

According to the report, the kidnappers speak good English and use cell phones with a Phoenix area code so it looks like they are in the Arizona capital, even though they are probably making the calls from Mexico, where the extortion money is often sent.

Mexico is currently suffering a crime wave, with an increase in kidnappings across the country that don't discriminate by class.

Thousands of Mexicans marched in August across the country to express their anger at the increase in crime and demand action on the part of their government.

Read the complete report from AP on how kidnappings from Mexico are seeping into the United States here.

Click here for more on Mexico, and here for more about immigration.

-- Deborah Bonello in Mexico City

Image: A truck crosses the United States border with Mexico. Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times

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