'Too much violence' in Mexico, alleged human smuggler says
GULFPORT -- A suspected human smuggler arrested in Waveland with eight other men and two boys has told an immigration officer he fears being returned to his home country of Mexico, a court document shows.
Roberto Esquivel-Alonso, 41, has admitted in a sworn statement that he's been deported and has transported undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. "two or three times," but has pleaded not guilty on a second indictment involving his Nov. 15 arrest with 10 others.
"I don't want to go back to Mexico because there is too much violence in my country," he said in a statement filed in court records Wednesday. The statement was signed Nov. 16 and filed as an exhibit after his arraignment on the new indictment.
When asked if he felt he would be tortured or persecuted if he was returned to Mexico, he said, "no," the statement said.
Esquivel-Alonso, born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, is held without bond along with three of those found travelling with him and another driver. The other seven have been removed from the country, a prosecutor's motion said.
Before their arrests, U.S. Border Patrol agents had received information that a known smuggler of immigrants was believed to be driving through Louisiana and into Mississippi in a specific vehicle, according to an agent's criminal complaint and investigative report.
A white 2001 GMC Yukon with a New Orleans Saints license plate had been used to transport undocumented immigrants and was spotted in Tennessee twice, the agent said. Investigators learned the Yukon was traveling in Louisiana on Nov. 15, and it later appeared a second SUV was traveling with it. Gulfport agents gathered on Interstate 10 and followed the SUVs from Exit 2 south to a gas station at Mississippi 603 and U.S. 90, where agents confronted the occupants.
Esquivel-Alonso owns both vehicles, and some of the passengers reportedly said they were each expected to pay him $150 to $200 for a ride from Texas to Orlando. Esquivel-Alonso told an agent he had left I-10 and headed south to avoid being followed by law enforcement, a report said.
In his sworn statement, he said he has transported undocumented immigrants "two or three times," and said he was last deported in 1999 after having entered the U.S. near McAllen, Texas.
"I just crossed the border on foot," his statement said.
A grand jury indicted him Dec. 8, alleging he knowingly transported people who didn't have authorization to enter the U.S. His attorney wanted the indictment dismissed, saying it wasn't specific to the charge.
A new indictment filed Jan. 20 alleges Esquivel-Alonso was transporting the group for commercial advantage or financial gain.
He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
His trial is set on a court calendar that starts Feb. 29.