GULFPORT -- A Mexican national arrested in Waveland has admitted smuggling people into the United States though he knew they did not have permission to enter the country.
Roberto Esquivel-Alonso, 41, was arrested Nov. 15 when he was found with eight men and two boys who were traveling in a two-vehicle convoy. Seven were removed from the U.S. and three have been held pending prosecution, a prosecutor's motion said.
Esquivel-Alonso, who is being held with no bond, pleaded guilty Monday before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden.
Ozerden set sentencing for May 24.
Never miss a local story.
Esquivel-Alonso faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The guilty plea will not effect his immigration status, the plea agreement said.
He is in the U.S. without permission and has brought Mexicans without visas into the U.S. "two or three times," he said in a sworn statement in an interview with an immigration officer. He said he was last deported in 1999 after entering the U.S. near McAllen, Texas.
"I just crossed the border on foot," he said.
He said he doesn't want to return to Mexico because "there is too much violence in my country." Court papers show he was born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, and has used other names, such as Pedro.
His arrest came after U.S. Border Patrol agents received information that a known smuggler of immigrants was believed to be driving through Louisiana and into Mississippi in a white 2001 GMC Yukon with a New Orleans Saints license plate, documents show. The vehicle had been spotted twice in Tennessee.
Agents were looking for the Yukon on Interstate 10 and later realized a 2007 Chevrolet Suburban was traveling with it. Gulfport agents followed the SUVs as they exited I-10 and stopped at a gas station at Mississippi 603 and U.S. 90, where agents confronted the occupants.
Esquivel-Alonso said he had gotten off I-10 and headed south to avoid being followed by law enforcement, reports show.
He owns both vehicles, and some passengers told agents they were each expected to pay him $150 to $200 for a ride from Texas to Orlando.
A grand jury indicted him Dec. 8.
He is held at an undisclosed location. He was set for trial Feb. 29.