Commercial drivers involved in human smuggling face stiff penalties under ‘Texas Hold ’Em’ initiative

Migrants in Holding Area
Agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection place illegal migrants in a holding facility before returning the individuals to their countries of origin. (Courtesy: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

EDINBURG, Texas — Agents with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) are working in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety to reinforce consequences outlined in the Texas Hold ’Em initiative.

As the number of illegal alien apprehensions continue to rise in the South Texas, the CBP has focused its efforts to curb the dangerous tactic of human smuggling using tractor-trailers. Under the Texas Hold ’Em initiative, when a driver who holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is convicted of alien or narcotic smuggling, the driver will be considered for disqualification from holding a CDL for life (Texas Transportation Code, Section 522.081).

In addition, under federal law 8 USC 1324 (a)(1)(A)(ii), those found guilty of knowingly transporting an illegal alien face the following possible penalties:

  • If transport causes death of an alien or others: Death penalty, any term of years or life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, seizure of the conveyance.
  • If transport causes serious bodily injury to an alien or others: Up to 20 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, seizure of the conveyance.
  • If transport of humans is for profit: Up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, seizure of the conveyance.
  • If transport of humans is not for profit: Up to 5 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, seizure of the conveyance.

The incident below led to the first successful CDL cancellation under the program this year in the Rio Grande Valley.

On March 16, 2020, agents working at the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint arrested a commercial driver after agents discovered six illegal aliens hidden inside the cabin of his tractor. The case was presented in a U.S. District Court, where the driver, Ivan Garza, pled guilty to the offense and received five months confinement and is ordered to remain on supervised release upon completion of his sentence. As a result of his conviction, the court will revoke Garza’s CDL for life.

The hard work and collaboration between CBP agents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, and the Texas Department of Public Safety were instrumental in this success.

The Rio Grande Valley Sector has multiple campaigns focused on rescues and danger awareness, such as Operation Big Rig and No Se Arriesgue to combat human smuggling and ultimately save lives. To report suspicious activity, such as human and/or drug smuggling, in the Rio Grande Sector, call 911.

Even with the spread of the COVID-19 virus, human smugglers continue make brazen attempts with zero regard for the lives they endanger nor to the health of the citizens the U.S., according to a statement from CBP. The following stories outline only a few human-smuggling attempts made using commercial trucks during August.

36 illegal immigrants discovered concealed in hidden compartment of tractor-trailer

LAREDO, Texas — During the early morning of Aug. 18, a tractor-trailer approached the Freer Border Patrol Checkpoint. During an immigration inspection of the driver, a service canine alerted agents to the vehicle.

A secondary search of the vehicle led agents to discover 36 individuals, including three juveniles, hidden in a false aftermarket compartment. All of the individuals, originally from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, were illegally present in the U.S. The individuals and the driver, a U.S. citizen, were taken into custody pending further investigation by special agents of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS). The tractor and trailer were seized by CBP.

“Agents throughout the Laredo Sector remain focused on stopping human smuggling in all forms, especially in cases where commercial vehicles are used to smuggle people,” said Matthew Hudak, chief patrol agent for the Laredo Sector. “We will continue to work in collaboration with our partner agencies to aggressively prosecute smugglers and those that support them and their criminal activity.”

To report suspicious activity, such as alien and/or drug smuggling in the Laredo Sector, download the “USBP Laredo Sector” App or contact the Laredo Sector Border Patrol toll free at 800-343-1994.

Traffic stop results in apprehension of nearly 50 people who illegally entered U.S.

EDINBURG, Texas — CBP agents and troopers with Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) worked together to disrupt what the CPB describes as a ‘significant’ human-smuggling operation.

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, DPS contacted the McAllen Border Patrol station and requested assistance with a vehicle stop in Mission, Texas. Agents assisted a trooper who stopped an unrefrigerated commercial truck for a traffic violation. During the stop, the trooper observed 15 people attempting to conceal themselves in the cargo area of the vehicle. CBP agents determined that all the subjects were illegally present in the U.S.

Additional information led troopers and agents to a home in Mission, Texas, that was suspected of operating as a human-smuggling stash house. Troopers and agents discovered 11 additional illegal aliens inside the residence. DPS took custody of the driver and the truck. CBP took custody of the remaining subjects and processed them accordingly.

CBP reports that agents foiled five additional human-smuggling attempts during the same week, leading to the arrest of the drivers and 23 people who were illegally present in the U.S.

CBP processed the all of the cases and subjects accordingly.

Big rig involved in human-smuggling attempt at Javier Vega Jr. Checkpoint

SARITA, Texas — Early in the morning of Aug. 21, CBP agents assigned to the Javier Vega Jr. Checkpoint referred a 51-year-old U.S. citizen driving a tractor-trailer for a secondary inspection after a service canine alerted attention to the trailer.

Inside the trailer, agents discovered a total of 27 illegal aliens comprised of men and women from the countries of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Agents offered the subjects basic medical attention and escorted the group into the checkpoint for processing.

CBP turned the case over to HSI’s Corpus Christi Office for federal prosecution.

Rio Grande agents stop tractor-trailer carrying human cargo; later, commercial driver’s pre-check reveals 10 illegals hiding in trailer

EDINBURG, Texas — Early on the morning of Aug. 29, CPB agents working at the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint referred a tractor-trailer to the secondary inspection area after a service canine alerted their attention to the vehicle.

While inspecting the trailer, agents discovered eight illegal aliens concealed inside. Agents arrested the driver and escorted all subjects inside the checkpoint for further processing. CBP is working with HSI to seek federal prosecution.

That same evening, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) requested assistance from the Weslaco Border Patrol Station after a local transport company discovered 10 people inside one of its tractor-trailers. Upon arrival, agents learned that during the pre-inspection of the tractor-trailer, the driver noticed a broken seal on the trailer, which led to the discovery of the people inside. The company called HCSO, which relayed the information to CBP. Agents determined all 10 subjects to be illegally present in the U.S. and took them into custody.

The actions of the company’s driver to pre-inspect the tractor-trailer and notice the broken seal was instrumental in identifying a potentially dangerous smuggling attempt. His diligence not only prevented a potential detention by law enforcement, but possibly also prevented serious injury or death.

California CBP agents arrest 34 in two separate human-smuggling attempts, one involving a big rig

IMPERIAL, Calif. — Agents with CBP’s El Centro Sector arrested two men suspected of smuggling 32 illegal aliens in two separate human smuggling events on Aug. 31.

The first incident occurred at approximately 3:40 p.m., when agents encountered a white Ford Econoline van suspected of being used for alien smuggling near the area of East Ross Road and Cannon Road in El Centro.

Agents approached the vehicle and discovered that the driver, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen was attempting to smuggle 24 illegal aliens inside the van. Agents safely removed all of the subjects and conducted welfare checks. The smuggler and all 24 illegal aliens were placed under arrest and transported to the rally point for further processing.

The driver was processed administratively for alien smuggling and the 24 illegal aliens — 21 men, two women and one juvenile boy, all from Mexico — were expelled back to their country of origin.

The second incident occurred at 5:45 p.m., when agents conducted a vehicle stop on a white Freightliner tractor-trailer that was potentially being used for human-smuggling approximately 5 miles north of Brawley.

During the stop, agents discovered that the driver was a 40-year-old illegal alien from Mexico. Agents subsequently searched the trailer and found eight illegal aliens, all men from Mexico, locked inside. Agents safely removed all of the subjects and conducted welfare checks. The smuggler and all eight illegal aliens were placed under arrest and transported to the rally point for further processing.

The driver was processed administratively for alien smuggling, and the eight men were expelled back to their country of origin.

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