PHOENIX (AP) - A sheriff's deputy was shot and wounded Friday
after encountering a group of suspected illegal immigrants who
apparently had been hauling bales of marijuana along a major
smuggling corridor in the Arizona desert - a violent episode that
comes amid a heated national debate over immigration.
State and federal law enforcement agencies deployed helicopters
and scores of officers in pursuit of the suspects after the deputy
was shot with an AK-47 on Friday afternoon. The officer had a chunk
of skin torn from just above his left kidney, but the wound was not
serious and he was doing fine.
The shooting was likely to add fuel to an already fiery national
debate sparked last week by the signing of an Arizona law aimed at
cracking down on illegal immigration in the state.
The deputy was found in the desert Friday afternoon - after a
frantic hourlong search - suffering from a gunshot wound from an
AK-47, Pinal County sheriff's Lt. Tamatha Villar said. He was flown
by helicopter to a hospital in Casa Grande, about 40 miles south of
Villar said the deputy had been performing smuggling
interdiction work before finding the bales of marijuana and
encountering the five suspected illegal immigrants, two armed with
"He was out on his routine daily patrol in the area when he
encountered a load of marijuana out in the desert. He obviously
confronted the individuals and took fire," Villar told The
Associated Press. "I was speaking with him just a bit ago, and
he's doing fantastic."
The deputy was alone about five miles from a rest stop along
Interstate 8, about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. The area is
a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants
headed from Mexico to Phoenix and the U.S. interior.
"Over the past 12 months we've seen an increase in the amount
of drugs, and an increase in violence that has been going on in
this particular corridor," Villar told KPNX.
"We've had increasing concerns in this area about being
outmanned and outgunned, and unfortunately this evening, this is
coming true," he said.
The shooting came as Arizona grapples with backlash over its
enactment of a tough new law targeting illegal immigration. Civil
rights activists, concerned the law will lead to racial profiling,
have called for a boycott of the state.
The law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last week is supported by many
in the state, which has become a major gateway for drug smuggling
and human trafficking from Mexico.
Its passage came amid increasing anger in Arizona about
violence, drug smugglers, drop houses and other problems caused by
poor border security.
Villar said the search for the suspects involved numerous
helicopters from state and federal law enforcement agencies and
scores of officers near Interstate 8 and Arizona 84 about 50 miles
south of Phoenix.
"The deputy is a search-and-rescue deputy, so its not uncommon
for them to work those areas A) looking for drugs and B) looking
for people who need assistance out there," Villar said.
"Obviously its a high-traffic area for drug- and