Federal immigration agents seized another 31 illegal immigrants at Los Angeles International Airport, bringing to 206 the number of aliens arrested as part of this week's nationwide crackdown against smuggling on commercial jetliners, officials said Thursday.
Among those detained Wednesday night were seven who tried to board Eastern Airlines Flight 80 for Atlanta and New York, the same flight targeted in two recent Immigration and Naturalization Service raids. On Monday morning, 79 aliens were arrested in Atlanta when the "red-eye" arrived there, and another 69 were arrested later that night when they tried to board the same flight at Los Angeles International.
Ernest Gustafson, the agency's district director in Los Angeles, said INS agents will continue to patrol the airport, seeking illegals trying to fly out of the Southland. He added that alien smugglers are already diverting their charges to out-of-state airports because of the mass arrests.
"I understand now that because of that, they are building up at Las Vegas and Phoenix (airports)," Gustafson said.
INS agents were at the airport again late Thursday night, but no arrest figures were available.
In Wednesday night's sweep, instead of focusing on one flight, about 20 INS agents went through all of the airport's passenger terminals, looking for suspected illegal immigrants. Those who could not prove U.S. citizenship, or legal residency, were detained.
According to authorities, smugglers have been using low-fare "red-eye" flights to move illegals from Los Angeles to jobs promised in New York and other Northeast cities. But INS officials doubt whether this constitutes a new facet in the influx of illegals into the United States.
Meanwhile, INS Western Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell said Thursday that he expected a "major breakthrough" in the investigation of the airport smuggling schemes within the next 24 hours. He declined to elaborate.