By the time police arrived, the bloody gun battle between two speeding vehicles along one of Arizona's main highways was over. Four people were dead.
"When you have shootouts on your freeways and in your neighborhoods and your shopping areas, things are definitely out of control," Phoenix Police Chief Harold Hurtt told CBS Correspondent Sandra Hughes.
Arizona authorities say this happens about once a week in the lucrative and ruthless world of people smuggling -- in this case, one set of smugglers had stolen all the illegal immigrants from another set of smugglers. So they chased and shot up the car on the freeway, trying to get back their human cargo.
"If you look at slavery at any other time, people were bought and sold and fought over, and that's what's happening right now on the southwest border," Hurtt said.
Once here, illegal immigrants are kept in so-called "drop houses" -- often held hostage until someone pays the smugglers fee, usually about $1,500.
"We've had reports of children having their hands cut off if family members didn't pay the smuggling fee," said federal agent Thomas DeRouchey.
How did it get this treacherous to enter into the U.S.? Ironically, it's the success the federal government has had in cutting down illegal immigration. Operation Gatekeeper in California slammed closed one entry point, where people literally used to walk into this country.
Now they fight the heat in the Arizona desert, where immigrant deaths are at an all time high. To get here alive, they hire coyotes or smugglers. The profits are so high that drug smugglers are moving to human transport and are warring like the mafia.
Finally, the feds are stepping in, with a new Homeland Security Agency called Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- ICE.
"We've brought more than 50 agents into the Phoenix area," said Michael Garcia, Michael J. Garcia, ICE Acting Assistant Secretary.
The locals say it's about time. The smuggler shootouts have already pushed Phoenix's homicide rate to a record high.
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.