Federal immigration agents arrested 38 people trying to board airliners at Los Angeles International Airport after being tipped that smugglers of illegal aliens were again using late-night "redeye" flights, officials reported Monday.
Don Looney, deputy district director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Los Angeles office, said 33 illegal aliens from Mexico and five from El Salvador were taken into custody Sunday night as they attempted to board a Braniff Airlines plane and a Continental Airlines jetliner.
The aliens, Looney said, were headed for such cities as Kansas City, Chicago and Washington.
Since late February and early March, when 558 illegal immigrants were rounded up in an intensive INS sweep while trying to reach other parts of the country by air, there had been little apparent organized smuggling activity through the airport, Looney said.
"We had some hit-and-miss operations," he said, "just going out there to take a look to see if there was any large-scale operation. We were out there for a solid week at one point, but there was nothing there."
He said smugglers apparently had been taking illegal aliens east by automobile during the period since the earlier raids, then resorted once again to the late-night airline flights.
Looney said airlines have been cooperating with immigration agents.
The nightly sweeps of February and March began after federal agents discovered 79 illegal immigrants on an Eastern Airlines plane bound for Atlanta. The operation was widened to other Southern California airports, including Long Beach and Ontario. Some aliens were arrested as they landed in such cities as Atlanta and Boston.
Subsequently, several suspected principals in what the agents called a major smuggling operation were arrested at drop houses in South-Central Los Angeles.