PHOENIX – A Mexican married couple was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for using their daughters' border crossing cards to smuggle dozens of young girls into the United States, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Liudmila Roblero-Chavez, 34, of Agua Prieta, Mexico, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg to 42 months imprisonment for bringing aliens into the U.S. Her husband, Abad Estudillo-Venegas, 34, was also sentenced to 42 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to the same charges Dec. 8.
According to the couple's plea agreements, the pair brought a juvenile girl into the U.S. through the Douglas, Ariz., port of entry in November, knowing she was not a U.S. citizen. The couple provided the girl with a border crossing card belonging to one of their four daughters and had the child memorize the personal identification information on the card. Roblero-Chavez later admitted to bringing 40 to 50 undocumented young girls into the U.S. during the past year, charging a smuggling fee of $500 per child.
In each case, Roblero-Chavez said the couple left the unaccompanied girls at a store with a woman the girls did not know, who took them on the next leg of their journeys. Three of the girls were later rescued by HSI special agents after being held hostage and threatened by smugglers in a Phoenix drop house.
"This couple gambled by trying to take advantage of our country's border crossing system," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ann Birmingham Scheel. "That gamble cost them over three years in prison."
"This case is another example of the greed and exploitation that exists in the human smuggling trade," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of HSI Arizona. "Parents who contract with smuggling groups should know that they do so at great potential risk. They are essentially placing the fate of their children in the hands of criminals who value personal profit over child welfare."
When sentencing Roblero-Chavez, Judge Teilborg said, "Trafficking in human cargo is a particularly egregious activity and carries with it huge risks, definitely having a terrorizing effect on its victims and obviously done for profit."
HSI was assisted in the investigation by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Phoenix Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Jennis Settel of the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona.