Mexican man ‘smuggled 85 migrants in truck to pay off his $8,000 debt’
Mexican man 'smuggled 85 migrants in tractor trailer through the US-Mexico border region to settle £8,000 debt owed for his OWN illegal crossing'
- Jose Luis Vega-Arzate told a Texas court last Friday he was guilty of smuggling 85 undocumented migrants who were locked in a tractor trailer
- The Mexico native reached an agreement to drive the truck in Texas with smugglers to settle his £8,000 smuggling debt
- The 31-year-old approached a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint north of Laredo on May 11 when he was stopped for a routine inspection
- A sniffer dog detected the presence of humans in the cargo container before the border agents discovered the migrants inside
- Vega-Arzate is scheduled to appear in court October 20 and could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison
Published: 21:15, 26 July 2022 | Updated: 21:16, 26 July 2022
A Mexican man who agreed to drive a tractor trailer packed with 85 undocumented migrants in exchange for settling his own United States-Mexico border crossing fee debt is now facing up to 20 years in a federal prison.
Jose Luis Vega-Arzate, 31, pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport migrants for financial gain in a Texas court last Friday.
The Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, resident reached an agreement to drive the rig as a way to settle the £8,000 payment he owed for being smuggled over the southern border to Austin, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office for the Southern District of Texas.
With no prior experience of having operated a tractor trailer, Vega-Arzate got behind the wheel and hit the road with the migrant loaded truck.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols a section of the United States-Mexico border wall between San Diego and Mexico on July 4, 2016
U.S. Border Patrol stationed in front of a steel border barrier at Mexico-United States international border line
Vega-Arzate, who did not have a commercial driver's license, was told that he needed to be careful about stopping on his way to San Antonio 'because the undocumented individuals could die due to lack of ventilation resulting from the trailer's lack of movement,' court documents indicated.
He was approaching a U.S.
Border Patrol checkpoint on a road north of Laredo on May 11 when he was pulled over after the agents noticed his 'nervous behavior and problems 'shifting gears.'
The border officers deployed a sniffer dog to inspect the truck and detected the presence of humans inside the cargo container.
The agents then broke the trailer's seal and found the migrants inside.
Vega-Arzate is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo, who will impose the sentence October 20.
His guilty plea came two days after a federal grand jury in San Antonio returned indictments in the worst smuggling incident in United States history that left 53 migrants dead and 10 others injured inside a hot and airless tractor trailer that authorities found on the side of a road on June 27.
A total of 53 migrants died and 10 others were injured after they were left found inside a hot and airless tractor trailer in San Antonio on June 27
Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, drove the tractor trailer that was crammed with Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran migrants before he abandoned it near San Antonio on June 27. He could be sentenced to death if he is found guilty for the deaths of the 53 migrants and 10 others who were injured
Christian Martinez, 28, accused of plotting the United States' deadliest human smuggling operation that claimed the lives of 53 migrants on June 27 in San Antonio
Jair Valencia (left), Misael Olivares (center) and Yovani Valencia (right) are displayed on an altar at their home in San Marcos Atexquilapan, Mexico, on July 13. The three were among the 53 migrants who died of heat and dehydration in a locked tractor trailer abandoned by smugglers outside San Antonio on June 27
Homero Zamorano Jr., 46, and Christian Martinez, 28, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to transport undocumented immigrants resulting in death and one count of transportation of undocumented migrants resulting in death.
They also face one count of conspiracy to undocumented migrants resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy and one count of transportation of transport undocumented immigrants in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy.
Both American men could be sentenced to death if they are convicted.
Mexican nationals Juan Claudio D'Luna-Mendez, 23, and Juan Francisco D'Luna-Bilbao, 48, were also indicted on alleged of possession of a firearm while being unlawfully present in the United States.
Each could be looking at up to 10 years in prison if they are found guilty.
Margie Paz, of Honduras, was among the 53 people who died in the tractor trailer smuggling incident in the outskirts of San Antonio on June 27.
The 24-year-old had been studying at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Her boyfriend, Alejandro Caballero, also died
Honduran brothers Fernando Redondo (left) and Alejandro Andino (right) were among the 53 migrants who died in the tractor trailer smuggling incident in June
53 migrants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were found dead inside the tractor trailer after it was found abandoned outside of San Antonio on June 27
Zamorano Jr. drove the 18-wheeler that carrying 67 migrants from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and was found by authorities abandoned in a desolate, industrial area near a highway about 160 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border on a day in which temperatures topped 103 Fahrenheit.
The dead included 27 migrants from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador.
A 20-year-old survivor from Guatemala told The Associated Press that smugglers had covered the trailer's floor with what she believes was powdered chicken bouillon, apparently to prevent U.S. Customs and Border Protection sniffer dogs from detecting the migrants at checkpoints.
San Antonio Police chief William McManus told CNN it 'was a crime against humanity.'
'The floor of the trailer, it was completely covered in bodies.
Completely covered in bodies,' he added.