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LAREDO, Texas – A Mexican citizen pleaded guilty July 22 for conspiring to transport noncitizens for financial gain, following an investigation conducted by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Border Patrol (BP) Laredo Sector.
According to court documents, Jose Luis Vega-Arzate, 31, from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, drove into the Border Patrol checkpoint north of Laredo, May 11. At initial inspection, he displayed nervous behavior and had trouble shifting gears. After a K-9 also alerted to the trailer, agents broke the seal, opened it, and discovered 85 individuals locked inside the vehicle. They were later determined to be illegally present in the United States. At that time, Vega-Arzate told authorities that he had agreed to pay $8,000 to have himself smuggled from Mexico into the country and transported to Austin. He volunteered to drive the tractor trailer through the checkpoint to receive a large reduction in his own transportation fee. He did not possess experience or a commercial driving license to drive a tractor trailer in Texas.
Vega-Arzate was cautioned to avoid stopping on the way to San Antonio because the noncitizens could die due to lack of ventilation resulting from the trailer’s lack of movement.
A federal judge will impose sentencing Oct. 20. At that time, Vega-Arzate faces up to 20 years in federal prison and possible $250,000 maximum fine. Vega-Arzate will remain in custody pending that hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Homero Ramirez, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.
HSI San Antonio continues to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of the people they exploit. To report suspicious smuggling activity, you are urged to call 1-866-348-2423.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.