GULFPORT -- A Mexican national found smuggling 10 immigrants into the United States has been fined $5,000 and faces deportation after serving prison time.
Roberto Esquivel-Alonso, 41, received a 27-month prison term at his sentencing Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Judge Sul Ozerden had accepted his guilty plea in February.
Esquivel has been held since Nov. 15, when U.S. Border Patrol agents confronted him and another driver at a Waveland gas station. Agents met them at gas pumps at Mississippi 603 and U.S. 90 as men began getting out of the vehicles. They were all taken into custody.
U.S. Border Patrol agents had been on the lookout for a vehicle registered to Esquivel, a criminal complaint said. He had been identified as a human smuggler. He also had been deported several years ago after his arrest in Hidalgo, Texas.
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Esquivel said he has transported undocumented immigrants "two or three times," and said he was last deported in 1999 after entering the U.S. near McAllen, Texas, he said in a sworn statement.
"I just crossed the border on foot," Esquivel said.
How he was caught
Agents have said they had received information that Esquivel would be travelling east through Louisiana. Border Patrol agents from the New Orleans Station and the Gulfport Station coordinated efforts to track him.
Esquivel was driving the lead vehicle, a gold 2007 Chevrolet Suburban, when they saw the vehicles exit Interstate 10 in Hancock County head south. He is the registered owner of the Suburban and a 2001 GMC Yukon driven by another person also found to be in the U.S. without permission.
Esquivel later admitted he had exited I-10 to avoid detection by law enforcement officers, an investigative report said.
The other driver was identified as the man who was dating Esquivel's mother and reportedly said he was driving as a favor to his girlfriend.
The 10 passengers were named in the indictment. The other driver was not named in the indictment.
Esquivel said he was to be paid $150 to $200 for each passenger when they reached Orlando, a report said.
'Too much violence'
Esquivel had told agents he fears being sent back home.
"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. When asked if he felt he would be tortured or persecuted if he was returned to Mexico, he said, "no."
Heightened security on corridors
The Border Patrol's efforts illustrate a nationwide strategy "to heighten security throughout the Gulf Coast Corridor," Chief Patrol Agent Jonathan Richards said after Esquivel's arrest. Richards works with the Border Patrol New Orleans Sector.
The New Orleans Sector is part of the South Texas campaign, which uses federal, state and local resources "to combat transnational criminal organizations," Richards said.
The goal of the campaign, he said, is to stop criminal organizations and target those who use major corridors for illegal purposes.