A Guatemalan man crammed with 15 other immigrants into two Honda Pilots will be spending a year in prison because it was his fourth time to illegally enter the United States.
Public defender John Weber argued passionately that 49-year-old Efrain Garcia Monterroso should be sentenced to time served — 86 days. Federal sentencing guidelines called for zero to six months because Monterroso has no criminal record.
Weber said there's no proof that prison acts as a deterrent to re-entry. Monterroso, Weber said, has been traveling to the United States for 28 years solely to work and feed his family.
Prosecutor Stan Harris, an assistant U.S. attorney, asked for a harsher sentence than the guidelines suggest because of Monterroso's repeated violations. He asked that U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden sentence Monterroso, who had an interpreter for the plea hearing, to two years.
"This is a serious offense," Ozerden said. "The sentence needs to reflect that." He pointed out that Monterroso illegally entered the country in 2008, 2014 and 2015.
Monterroso had been in the country less than a week when U.S. Border Patrol stopped the Honda Pilots in January on Interstate 10 in Hancock County. The occupants from Guatemala and Mexico were headed to Mobile and Florida for jobs, according to a criminal complaint.
Outside court, Weber said Monterroso's family had scraped together $11,000 so that he could work around race horses in Florida, where he would have been shoveling manure.
The drivers of the Honda Pilots, Kenneth Samuel Hernandez-Valdez and Ever Anibal Silva-Escobar, have pleaded guilty in the case and are set to be sentenced July 17.