WICHITA, Kan. — A 2-year-old girl who had been separated from her mother was one of 12 passengers in a van driven by a man indicted Tuesday on charges of transporting illegal aliens. These charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Santos Tomas Ochoa-Bello, 29, a Mexican national, was charged Dec. 8 in the District of Kansas with transporting illegal aliens and re-entering the U.S. after being deported. The indictment alleges that on Nov. 24 Ochoa-Bello was driving a Dodge minivan with Pennsylvania license plates when he was stopped by the Kansas Highway Patrol on Highway 156 in Barton County, Kansas.
ICE agents responded and encountered twelve illegal aliens from Mexico and Guatemala in the van; six were juveniles traveling without parents or legal guardians. The youngest unaccompanied minor was a 2-year-old girl who was separated from her mother at some point as the passengers crossed from Mexico into the U.S. ICE agents observed that the girl seemed hungry and learned she had been given only Gatorade during the trip. Her clothes were soiled and she had no change of clothing or diapers.
The ICE investigation revealed that the passengers had made their way from Mexico to a house in Phoenix, Ariz. From there, they arranged for transportation to destinations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, hoping to join relatives and find employment. Ochoa-Bello agreed to drive the minivan from Phoenix to Pennsylvania, where he was to turn the van over to another person.
"Alien smuggling organizations are driven by greed and have no regard for their human cargo," said Gilbert Trill, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Kansas City. "ICE will continue to work together with our law enforcement partners to investigate and dismantle these organizations."
If convicted, Ochoa-Bello faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the transportation charge, and up to two years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the charge of unlawful re-entry after deportation. As an illegal alien, Ochoa-Bello will be turned over to ICE for removal upon completion of any prison sentence imposed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson, District of Kansas, is prosecuting the case. In all cases, defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The indictments filed merely contain allegations of criminal conduct.