Authorities have arrested and indicted 23 people for their roles in a smuggling operation aimed at bringing illegal immigrants to the U.S. through the southern border.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western Texas announced the 23 arrests and two additional arrests for federal drug charges this week. Authorities say the smuggling ring operates in Eagle Pass, Crystal City, Carrizo Springs, Uvalde, San Antonio, Laredo, Dallas and other areas of Texas.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the ringleader Jaime Jaramillo-Hernandez was among those arrested.
If convicted of alien smuggling the defendants face up to ten years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The two arrested on federal drug charges for possession to with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine face between five and 40 years in prison.
The San Antonio News Express reports that the smuggling operation transported about 150 illegal immigrants a week and charged $5,000 a person.
“It was thousands,” the paper quoted James Spero, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, saying at a Thursday press conference. “In the past couple of years, we’ve attributed thousands of [immigrants] and millions of dollars to this group.”
The investigation — Operation Project 83 — into the smuggling has lasted two years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, and yielded over 400 arrests and seizures of $187,000 in U.S. Currency, three firearms, and 19 vehicles.
“HSI is dedicated to working closely with its law enforcement partners in all arenas in pursuit of identifying, arresting and prosecuting individuals involved in human smuggling, regardless of their position,” Spero added said in a statement. “Today’s arrests exemplify the high level of collaboration between HSI and its partners in investigating these cases.”
According to the New Express, investigators described the ring as having no regard for human life hiding the human cargo anywhere it would fit including.
“The smuggling organizations … treat them as cargo and not as people,” Richard Durbin, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said according to the News Express. “They expose them to harsh conditions, and they sometimes expose them to serious injury and death.”