HOUSTON - Twenty-two people arrested on Tuesday during a local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation are being charged criminally with using their businesses to transport recently smuggled aliens into the country. These charges were announced on Wednesday by John Morton, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assistant secretary for ICE, and U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson for the Southern District of Texas.
ICE agents on Feb. 2 also executed nine search warrants at various businesses associated with the defendants; 81 illegal aliens encountered at the businesses were arrested administratively and have been placed in removal proceedings. One individual was criminally arrested for re-entering the United States after having been previously deported, which is a felony.
The three-month investigation, dubbed "Night Moves," focused on Houston-area transportation businesses, which ranged from store-front operations to individually contracted drivers. Since November, ICE and U.S. Border Patrol agents have administratively arrested 209 individuals as part of the operation, including citizens from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
"Human smugglers are ruthless criminals who prey upon and profit from people seeking a new life in our country. This crime undermines our borders and reaches every state in the interior, leaving a trail of exploitation," said John Morton, DHS assistant secretary for ICE. "ICE is committed to preventing human smuggling by using every available resource to investigate, dismantle and present for prosecution businesses involved in the unlawful activity."
U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas, said: "Alien smuggling is a significant problem in our city. Those arrested and charged today with alien smuggling are the owners and managers of transport companies that allegedly accepted cash from alien smugglers to move undocumented aliens in vans and SUVs from Houston to other cities around the United States.
"This is not legitimate business. It's a violation of federal law. We will continue to investigate and prosecute those engaged in such activity," he said.
The following defendants associated with the named Houston transportation businesses remain in federal custody:
- Salvador Ramirez-Medina, 35, with Transportes Tres Estrellas de Oro, 7700 block of Park Place Boulevard
- Felipe Banda-De Jesus, 44, and Rogelio Banda, 37, with Transportes Banda, 5600 block of Harrisburg Boulevard
- Antonio Duran, 37; Tito Jimenez, 41; Liliana Madrigal, 30; and Benito Tapia, 34, with Transportes El Cadete and Los Angelitos, 2300 block of South Wayside Drive
- Rene Garcia-Garces, 61, Rene Alberto Garces, 33, Rene Leiva, 25, Alejandro Perez-Romero, 32, with Transportes Medrano and Amigo, 6300 block of Harrisburg Boulevard
- Maritza Herrera, 40, and Jose Manzur Romero-Luna, 31, with Transportes Sarahi, 7400 block of Tuck Street
- Blanca Estela Torres, 49; Jose Torres Mandujano, 52; and Jose Antonio Torres, 27, with Transportes Los Plebes, 500 block of Wayside Drive
- Santos Alejandro Yaxon, 47, with El Pionero Van Tours, 5500 block of East Mt. Houston
- Alejandro Rodriquez-Garcia, 43, Paola Rodriquez-Juarez, 50, Luis Sosa-Juarez, 47, with Super Express Van Tours, 7200 block of Long Drive.
Each of the defendants is charged with conspiracy to transport illegal aliens, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
All defendants are scheduled to appear before U. S. Magistrate Judge Stephen W. Smith on Wednesday in Houston. A preliminary examination and bond determination hearing for each defendant may be set as early as today.
Among the 23 individuals charged in the Southern District of Texas, which includes the alien charged with re-entry after deportation, ICE agents arrested Gaspar Campos, 36, and Angel Bravo, 42, associated with Transportes Latinos, another Houston transportation company. The arrest warrants for Campos and Bravo were issued by U.S. District Court in the District of New Jersey.
Campos and Bravo are both charged with conspiring to transport illegal aliens and are also set to have their initial appearance in federal court today in Houston. However, they are scheduled to be transferred to New Jersey to await trial.
During Tuesday's enforcement operation, ICE agents also seized 32 vehicles and 18 weapons, including one weapon that was reported stolen.
ICE, the largest investigative agency within DHS, enforces laws related to human smuggling and human trafficking. Human smuggling illegally imports people into the country by deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the country, as well as the unlawful transporting and harboring of aliens already in the country illegally. Unlike human trafficking, which exploits aliens already in the country, human smuggling is transportation-based.
For those aliens who were administratively arrested, ICE may release individuals for medical or humanitarian reasons following an interview and evaluation. So far, ICE has released two people for humanitarian reasons. Both individuals have been served with a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge at a later date.
The following agencies also participated in this ICE-led investigation: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Air, and Fines Penalties & Forfeiture; Houston Police Department; Harris County Sheriff's Office; and the U.S. Department of Public Health.