US Citizen and Asylum-Seeker Face Charges for Alleged Conspiracy to Transport Migrants


Texas El Paso (Border Report): Several federal charges have been brought against a U.S. citizen, a Cuban asylum applicant, and a Mexican national in relation to an unsuccessful attempt at migrant smuggling at the Texas–New Mexico state line. On Wednesday, a federal grand jury in El Paso accused the trio of allegations of financial gain through unlawful alien trafficking and conspiracy.

The prosecution of Alberto Gonzalez Pena and Ernesto Arzaga began on December 4, when U.S. Border Patrol agents observed a gray Acura and a black Chevrolet SUV driving into an industrial park in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, at night, a short distance north of the border wall.

The agents saw the two cars heading into the desert at a slow speed, seemingly following each other. A little while later, the cars reappeared, with the Acura seeming “weighted down.” According to court documents, the Chevy and the Acura broke up close to the Texas state line at the crossroads of McNutt and Country Club roads.

After being contacted by the Border Patrol, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper stopped the Acura on the Texas side and inquired about the citizenship of the drivers. Gonzalez, the driver, introduced himself and said he was a Cuban citizen with a legitimate asylum claim. According to court documents, the trooper entered the car and saw two people crouched in the back seat. It was then discovered that these people were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Gonzalez was also detained on February 1, 2021, in Doña Ana County, New Mexico, according to records, about the arrest of six undocumented migrants close to a highway checkpoint north of Las Cruces. According to reports, Gonzalez was operating a lookout in a different car while a man by the name of Michael Chenoweth was allegedly driving the migrants. Documents reveal that Gonzalez’s prosecution was put on hold because to a court order requiring a prompt trial since the COVID-19 epidemic had more cases than judges could handle.

Regarding the other vehicle involved in the more recent incident in Santa Teresa, border officials observed it leave the scene and travel to Clark Drive in East-Central El Paso after following it onto Interstate 10. Once more, the Border Patrol called on the Texas Department of Public Safety for assistance. According to court documents, the DPS stopped the car and questioned the driver, Ernesto Arzaga, who is an American citizen.

Within the Chevrolet SUV, there were six undocumented migrants in total; Arzaga was apprehended with them. Subsequently, it is said that Arzaga granted federal authorities access to his cellphone when he discovered that a person known only by the alias “Mijo” would be contacting to arrange for the migrants to be dropped off.

According to court documents, the number was contacted and the person who answered was instructed to meet at a motel on Lomaland Drive by someone who was later identified as Cristian Mares Sandoval. A federal criminal complaint states that Mares, an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico with a criminal past, was the driver of the silver Jeep that Border Patrol agents met with at the motel.

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Mares allegedly informed investigators that he was receiving $500 from unnamed individuals to give the migrants food and a hotel room. He allegedly informed detectives that his job was to relocate undocumented foreign nationals to stash houses.

In relation to a different migrant smuggling incident in 2020, Arzaga was supposed to appear at a probation revocation hearing this month, according to records in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas.

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