Alleged smuggler in fatal border crossing arrested
PHOENIX (AP) – One of 12 survivors of a border crossing that ended in 14 deaths in the scorching hot Arizona desert was charged Tuesday with smuggling illegal immigrants, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said.
The charges against Jesus Lopez-Ramos, 20, of Sonoita in the Mexican state of Sonora are bringing in illegal aliens, conspiracy to bring in illegal aliens and harboring illegal aliens, court documents show.
If convicted, he could receive up to life in prison or the death penalty, an INS news release said.
INS spokesman Ron Rogers said Lopez-Ramos was among a group rescued from the southern Arizona desert east of Yuma last week. They were the survivors from a group of 26 that attempted to cross 70 miles of desert in temperatures reaching 115 degrees.
Three survivors of the border crossing were released into U.S. Border Patrol custody Monday.
The immigrants spent five days wandering the desert after some of the smugglers told them they were leaving to get water and never returned, officials said. Mexican authorities planned to return the bodies home by Wednesday night.
Eight survivors were released from the hospital into U.S. Border Patrol custody on Saturday and Sunday. The last survivor who remained hospitalized was in good condition Monday.
The Border Patrol has not released the names of any of the survivors.
The Border Patrol was holding the men and teen-age boys who were released from the hospital at the Yuma County Adult Detention Facility. They were being held as witnesses in the smuggling investigation.
Officials said they also must check the immigrants for any past deportations or criminal activity before they will be turned over to Mexican authorities and sent home.
The immigrants, who were from the Mexican states of Veracruz and Guerrero, crossed the border into southern Arizona in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
Officials said they must check the immigrants for any past deportations or criminal activity before they will be turned over to Mexican authorities and sent home.
Family members in the poor, highland villages of Veracruz said the immigrants were seeking a better life after plummeting coffee prices left them no other choice but to seek work in the United States.
Crackdowns at more popular and safe crossing points along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico in the Southwest have pushed immigrants to attempt crossing in dangerously remote areas.
Since 1998, 991 people died crossing the border, most from heat exposure or drowning, according to the Border Patrol. More than 5,000 others were rescued by agents.
The tragedy has prompted renewed pledges from U.S. and Mexican authorities to work together to find economic and political solutions that would reduce illegal immigration, to find and prosecute smugglers,and to spread the word that crossing the border can be deadly.
Eduardo Rea, a deputy consul at the Mexican Consulate in Calexico, Calif., declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
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