A Mexican national has pleaded guilty to illegally transporting 85 migrants for financial gain through South Texas in a hot, enclosed trailer, the Justice Department said Friday.
José Luis Vega-Arzate, 31, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, drove a tractor-trailer full of migrants on May 11 through a Border Patrol checkpoint outside Laredo, Texas, where an agent K-9 alerted agents to the vehicle. Agents opened the trailer and inside found 85 people who were illegally present in the United States, the Justice Department said.
Vega-Arzate told authorities he was paid to drive the tractor trailer. He had no commercial driver’s license and no prior experience driving a large truck. And he himself was illegally present in the United States. He said he agreed to drive the truck to reduce the $8,000 human smuggling fee he owed to the Mexican cartel that was helping him cross the border from Mexico.
“According to court documents, he was warned to avoid stopping on the way to San Antonio because undocumented immigrants could die from lack of ventilation due to the trailer’s lack of movement,” the Justice Department said in a press release.
Fifty-three migrants died of suffocation and heat-related illnesses after becoming trapped in an open trailer on June 27 in San Antonio, Texas. It was the deadliest human trafficking incident in the United States. Earlier this week, four men, including two Mexican nationals, were indicted by a grand jury in San Antonio on charges related to the 53 immigrant deaths. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report that 11 of the 53 migrants who died had felony criminal records in the United States. Cuellar, who is from Laredo, is the vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee on Appropriations.
Homeland Security Investigations is looking into the San Antonio trailer deaths. HSI agents also investigated Vega-Arzate. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Federal District Judge Marina García Marmolejo is scheduled to impose the sentence on October 20 in Laredo.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.