U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested a man along the California-Mexico border after he was reportedly caught carrying four Chinese immigrants in the trunk of his car.
The driver, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen, was attempting to enter the U.S. from Tijuana around 5:45 p.m. on March 14. He was driving a white 2014 Chrysler 200 sedan, according to KTLA.
While the vehicle was being inspected by agents at the San Ysidro border, a canine team trained to uncover drugs and smuggled human beings began barking at the trunk.
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Upon opening the trunk, the agents found three women and one man, all of them Chinese nationals. A photo taken at the scene shows the migrants tightly squeezed together in the limited space of the compartment.
All four were taken into custody after it was confirmed that they were not legally authorized to enter the U.S. They will be removed from the country following the conclusion of a criminal case against them.
Authorities also seized the vehicle and arrested its driver, who now faces federal immigrant smuggling charges.
"Concealing persons in vehicles is dangerous and could have severe consequences," Director of Field Operations for CBP in San Diego Peter Flores said. "San Ysidro CBP officers stopped a violation of our immigration law and were able to resolve the incident safely."
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement defines human smuggling as "the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This includes bringing illegal aliens into a country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in a country illegally. Some smuggling situations may involve murder, rape and assault."
As part of its strategy to combat organized human smuggling, ICE works with CBP to identify and prosecute not only people who are caught at the border, but also the foreigners behind both small- and large-scale smuggling operations.
ICE says it targets all the links in the chain, including organizers and recruiters, those who forge documents, as well as the transportation and employment networks that benefit from smuggling people in from other countries.
Under federal law, offenders are subject to a fine and as many as 10 years in prison, with the punishment multiplied by the number of people smuggled, according to Nolo. The penalty can also be amplified if the smuggling was done for commercial or financial gain, or if the smuggler is a repeat offender.