Top Federal Law Enforcement Officials in the Region Launch Plea on Migrants: Don’t Leave Your Life to Smugglers | USAO-SDCA
Director of Media Relations Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726
SUMMARY OF THE PRESS RELEASE – June 2, 2021
SAN DIEGO – Following a wave of trafficking-related deaths in the region, top federal law enforcement officials in San Diego have made an emotional appeal to migrants considering illegal travel across the border: don’t risk not your life.
In less than three weeks, four lives were lost and dozens of people had to be rescued from rough seas and hospitalized after several maritime smuggling events went horribly wrong.
“We appeal to anyone considering a desperate and perilous trip to the United States, whether by boat, on foot or crammed into the trunk of a car,” Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman said. ” Do not do it. Don’t put your life in the hands of smugglers. These people don’t care about you. They will confuse far too many people on a boat or in a car, just to make more money. They will direct you to hikes in remote areas in dangerous weather conditions without adequate food, water or clothing. Smugglers don’t care about their customers. They only care about maximum profit.
There were 25 migrant deaths in the border areas of San Diego and Imperial Counties from October through April, compared to 29 for the whole of fiscal 2020.
“Crossing the border illegally is extremely dangerous. Regardless of the method of passage, your life is in danger when placed in the hands of ruthless smugglers, ”said Scott Garrett, Acting Deputy Chief Constable of the US Border Patrol San Diego. “Smugglers will abandon their victims at the first sign of trouble, seeing them only as a consumable commodity. “
Over the past three months, a number of people have been charged, pleaded guilty or received sentences related to smuggling-related deaths:
On Friday, May 28, a federal grand jury issued an indictment against Antonio Hurtado, the alleged captain of the boat that ran aground off Point Loma on May 2. In this incident, three people drowned and 30 were rescued in a heroic United States effort. Coast Guard, San Diego Rescuers, and Border Patrol. Hurtado has been charged with attempting to bring in aliens which resulted in death and other crimes. Many survivors interviewed by authorities said they paid between $ 15,000 and $ 18,500 to be smuggled into the United States on board the ship.
In another case today an indictment has been issued accusing Victor Alfonso Soto Aguilar and Jose Ramon Geraldo Romero of the same crime: bringing in aliens causing death. On May 20, one person died and others were rescued in another maritime smuggling event. In the pre-dawn darkness, U.S. Border Patrol officers spotted numerous individuals in the ocean near La Jolla. A panga boat was also seen in the vicinity moving further north. The border patrol found that the individuals in the ocean were in great distress and in desperate need of assistance. Rescuers reacted immediately and rescued eight people from the water. The panga then finally arrived on the shore near the children’s pool. A submerged victim was found nearby and did not survive. Migrants rescued from the water admitted paying between $ 12,000 and $ 15,000 to be smuggled into the United States.
Tragedies are not limited to the ocean. Yesterday, Leobardo Soto-Toledo pleaded guilty to immigration-related crimes in January this year involving a group of 14 migrants entering the United States through an underground drainage pipe during heavy rains. A man drowned and a woman was found floating unconscious; she was resuscitated by a border patrol officer and treated in a hospital.
In April, two brothers from Chihuahua, Mexico were sentenced in federal court to 5.5 years in prison for smuggling three sisters over dangerous terrain along the US-Mexico border during an unfortunate journey that resulted in the tragic deaths of three young women. One of these sisters was the mother of a young child.
In March, Neil Edwin Valera, an American citizen who resided in Tijuana, was sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the deaths of three Chinese migrants, including a mother and her 15-year-old son, found in the trunk of the BMW by Valera.
Also in March, Jose Cruz Noguez of Mexicali, Mexico, was indicted by a federal grand jury on immigration charges related to a smuggling event on March 2, 2021 that resulted in the deaths of 13 Mexican and Guatemalan nationals in the accident of an overloaded vehicle near Holtville, California. This case is pending.
Grossman praised the prosecutors in these cases for their excellent work, and he thanked the U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security Investigations and the Coast Guard, as well as the San Diego rescuers. “You put your life in danger to save migrants in distress whether in the desert, the mountains or the ocean. You are heroes and we are all grateful for your efforts to protect everyone in our community, regardless of their immigration status. “
* Charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are only charges, and the accused are considered innocent until proven guilty.