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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE arrests 2 men connected with smuggling 30 illegal aliens in a U-Haul van

N.M. judge ordered both Mexican nationals detained with no bond in alien smuggling scheme

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A U.S. federal magistrate here on Thursday ordered two Mexican men detained with no bond after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents arrested them in connection with unlawfully transporting 30 illegal aliens inside a U-Haul van.

Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol responded Saturday evening to a call from a concerned citizen who reported that he saw a large group of aliens get into a white commercial van on Arizona Highway 80, near the Arizona-New Mexico state line.

Border Patrol agents conducted an immigration check on the van on New Mexico Highway 80, south of Roadforks, N.M. They discovered the driver and two passengers in the cab of the van, and 27 others in the cargo box. All were in the country illegally, and appeared to be in good health. Border Patrol agents contacted ICE and detained the U-Haul driver, Rosendo Gamez-Avila, 30, from Los Mochis, Mexico. The ICE investigation determined that Gamez-Avila was promised to be paid $100 per illegal alien.

The ICE investigation further determined that Douglas, Ariz., Border Patrol agents detained Miguel Trejo-Meraz, 52, on Arizona Highway 80 earlier that same evening. Trejo-Meraz, a border-crossing card holder, was identified as the individual who drove the U-Haul van from a business parking lot in Douglas, Ariz., to Arizona Highway 80, where he delivered it for Gamez-Avila to load and transport the illegal aliens. Trejo-Meraz was to be paid $200, according to the ICE investigation. He was waiting on the side of the road for a ride back to Douglas when Border Patrol agents encountered him.

Gamez-Avila is charged with alien smuggling/transporting; Miguel Trejo-Meraz is charged with conspiracy to commit alien smuggling. Both are detained in the Doña Ana County Detention Facility in Las Cruces pending trial.

All 30 illegal aliens discovered in the U-Haul were Mexican nationals. ICE agents interviewed the van occupants and determined that each alien paid between $800 to $1,800 to be smuggled into the United States and taken to their final destinations: Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz.; Chicago; Ill.; and Dallas, Texas. The group included a woman and a teen-age boy; the others were men. Border Patrol agents voluntarily returned most of the aliens to Mexico.

Roberto G. Medina, special agent-in-charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso, said ICE special agents are committed to work alongside their local and federal law enforcement partners to identify and dismantle alien smuggling networks.

"Alien smuggling organizations are driven by greed," he said. "ICE will not allow the border to be used as an opportunity for criminal smugglers to profit from their crimes. We will continue to work together with the Border Patrol and the U.S. Attorney's Office to bring these human smugglers to justice." Medina oversees an area that includes western Texas and the state of New Mexico.

El Paso Sector Chief Victor M. Manjarrez Jr. stated, "This is a text-book example of how the community can participate in the homeland security process. Members of the community should feel comfortable in reporting any suspicious activity."

The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity by calling ICE's toll free hotline at 1-866-347-2423), or the Border Patrol's hotline at 1-800-635-2509.