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PHOENIX - Knowingly renting to human smugglers is a federal crime, and guilty landlords can have their houses seized.
But in Arizona, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not seized a single property or referred any landlord for prosecution. Agents say the main reason is that proving an owner's motives is tricky, and finding the phony renters to testify is nearly impossible.

Foreclosed houses used to hide illegals

Even in the handful of cases where agents suspected that the owners knew, the government chose not to seize property because, in the current downturn, the value of the house was less than the loan.
Still, investigators are sifting data for signs of guilty collaborators.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has logged almost 600 raided drophouses statewide since 2005 and is just starting to analyze ownership records, looking for similarities in who rents properties to immigrant smugglers.
Detectives on a state task force that responds to reports of violence at drophouses say they are so busy keeping up with the caseload that they haven't had the time or personnel to analyze trends.
The Arizona Department of Real Estate began keeping records on some drophouses early this year.
Since the beginning of 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sent 136 warning letters to Phoenix-area property owners. The letter advises owners that their properties were used to harbor illegal immigrants and that if it happened again, they could lose their properties or be prosecuted.

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