- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Eagle-eyed Border Patrol agents sniffed out an attempt this weekend to smuggle illegal immigrants deeper into the U.S. in an ambulance.

The smugglers claimed to be transporting a patient from the border to a hospital in Houston, and tried to make their way through a Border Patrol checkpoint on Highway 281 near Falfurrias, Texas.

But the driver was too nervous and drew the attention of an agent who then asked to see credentials and paperwork on the patient. The driver, Oscar Omar Garcia, said he didn’t have either, said Agent Edwin Lopez.

At the same time, an agent with a contraband-sniffing dog alerted to the back of the ambulance, and the vehicle was sent for a secondary inspection, where six illegal immigrants were discovered in the back of the ambulance.

“One of the alien[s] was pretending to be a patient lying down on the stretcher wearing a neck brace, an intravenous attached to his right arm and an oxygen mask,” Agent Lopez said in the criminal complaint filed in federal district court in Texas.

After being arrested, Mr. Garcia told agents he was being paid $2,000 to drive the six illegal immigrants from McAllen to Houston, which is about six hours by car. A couple miles before the checkpoint he’d stopped the ambulance and told most of the migrants to hide in storage compartments while they went through the checkpoint.

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An accused accomplice, Gabriel Pineda, who’d been in the back of the ambulance with the illegal immigrant on the gurney, said he was being paid $1,000 for the trip — though he said he didn’t ask who they were transporting and didn’t know they were in the country illegally.

Two of the migrants contradicted that story. They told agents they paid $3,500 to Mr. Pineda as their final fees for completing their illegal journey into the U.S.

Border Patrol checkpoints are often the last line of defense for preventing illegal immigrants who’ve made it across the border from getting further into the U.S. They dot the major roads from the border north in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, and give agents a chance to eyeball the traffic, looking for telltale signs of smuggling.

Anything from dusty handprints on a vehicle’s trunk to nervous and discombobulated drivers can flag a more thorough examination, though contraband-sniffing dogs are among the best tools.

An entire smuggling industry has sprung up around trying to circumvent checkpoints.

One case earlier this year, involving the Aryan Brotherhood, saw the smugglers hire a tow truck to pull a car that, unbeknownst to the truck driver, had two illegal immigrants from Brazil inside it.

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A more common tactic is to drop illegal immigrants off before the checkpoint, then have a foot guide lead them through the brush around the checkpoint, and pick them up on the other side. The guides, usually illegal immigrants, can make thousands of dollars per group — though some do it to pay off their own smuggling fees to the cartels.

Drivers, meanwhile, are usually U.S. citizens. They can make thousands of dollars per migrant they manage to smuggle through a checkpoint.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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