Arizona cops find reefer with 97 cold illegal immigrants

| Friday, July 31, 2009

State police in Arizona recently found a commercial truck pulling a reefer loaded with 97 undocumented aliens. When police opened it, the reefer’s temperature was 34 degrees.

According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a state officer stopped a truck for an equipment violation at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29, on Interstate 19 north of Nogales, AZ.

The driver, 26-year-old Luis Antonio Mendoza, was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant. After his arrest, officers found 97 undocumented aliens hidden among a produce load inside the reefer.

The aliens included residents of Mexico and Guatemala, some of whom were children whose ages ranged from 9 to 12.

The Phoenix Business Journal reported that, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the illegal immigrants paid between $1,000 and $3,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. near Nogales and that Mendoza was paid $300 per person to transport them.

State officers had received a tip from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the truck after it passed through the port of entry. An Arizona Department of Public Safety public information officer told Land Line that Customs and Border Patrol told state police the truck was “possibly involved in criminal activity.”

Border Patrol and ICE responded to the scene and took control of the truck and trailer, as well as custody of the undocumented aliens. A statement said the aliens will be processed for return to their native countries, and ICE has opened a formal criminal investigation into the smuggling scheme and is working on the case with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“This is yet another frightening example of the callous disregard human smugglers have for those who entrust their lives to them,” Matthew Allen, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona, said in a statement. “These people were treated like cargo. They were crammed inside this truck and subjected to near freezing temperatures. Fortunately, due to the swift action of the law enforcement agencies involved in this case, none of these people came to any harm.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer