Border Crisis Unabated As More Arizonans Being Arrested For Human Smuggling

Border Crisis Unabated As More Arizonans Being Arrested For Human Smuggling

By Terri Jo Neff |

The hot temperatures of June did not slow down the relentless flow of people hoping to  enter the United States along the southwest border, according to data released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

While the majority of migrants crossing through Arizona are presenting themselves at CBP-operated ports of entry, there are still a number of people willing to pay big to be smuggled across remote areas along the border and then seek transportation  to Tucson and Phoenix.  

From Oct. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Yuma Sector reported more than 235,000 “encounters” – a nearly 300 percent explosion compared to the same eight months the prior fiscal year. The Tucson Sector reported more than 195,000 encounters so far this fiscal year, a 40 percent uptick.

Nationally, more than 1.6 million encounters were  reported from October to June,  compared to slightly more than 1 million the prior fiscal year. Those numbers only represent persons who turn themselves in to federal authorities or are intercepted by law enforcement.

However, the data does not represent the experiences faced by law enforcement officials, residents of border communities, and business owners. Which is why USBP Yuma Sector Chief Chris Clem and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot are offering law enforcement agencies across the country a firsthand look of the southwest border.

Last week the lawmen hosted two sheriffs from South Dakota, one day after Clem took to Twitter to announce USBP’s capture of Eloy Tecuanhuehue Hueyopa, a convicted sex offender previously removed by U.S. immigration officials. Clem noted that during his agents’ contact with Hueyopa they learned he had an extraditable warrant from the State of Indiana in a child molestation case.

And the week before, USBP agents assigned to Yuma Sector’s Wellton Station worked with a Border Patrol Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) unit as well as agents with CBP’s Air and Marine Operations to locate an 11-year-old boy who had been left in the rugged desert by his smuggler.

Many of those bypassing formal immigration channels are doing so in Cochise County, often wearing camouflaged clothing. Agents with USBP’s Tucson Sector are working with local, county, and state law enforcement personnel to address a growing lawlessness in the region fueled by Arizonans -mostly from Maricopa County- who come to the area to engage in human smuggling.   

Earlier this month 15-year-old Emiliano Villalobos of Phoenix was arraigned on felony charges including aggravated assault on a park ranger with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management stemming from a traffic stop just a few miles from the international border near Bisbee. A 9mm handgun and four undocumented non-U.S. citizens were found in the car Villalobos was driving.

Villalobos is being prosecuted as an adult on two aggravated assault counts and unlawful possession of a deadly weapon by a minor. He remains in the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office in lieu of a $50,000 secured appearance bond and is scheduled for an Aug. 19 pretrial conference in advance of a Dec. 5 speedy trial deadline.

Court records show Villalobos was driving a Honda Accord on June 24 when federal agents initiated a traffic stop after several people were seen getting into the vehicle shortly after 8 a.m. The Honda was traveling on a side road approaching State Route 92, a busy road which connects the Bisbee / Naco border area to Sierra Vista.

A BLM Park Ranger, identified only as T.B., maneuvered his marked government vehicle in order to block the Honda’s ability to reach SR92. As the Honda approached, the ranger exited his vehicle and drew his weapon in preparation of the traffic stop. 

The Honda initially stopped but then without warning the driver accelerated, spinning the car’s tires for nearly 20 feet in the direction of the ranger, according to a statement of probable cause authored by CCSO Deputy Marcus Gerow in support of Villalobos’ arrest.

“Ranger (T.B.) began backing up in fear of being hit by the vehicle,” Gerow wrote. “Ranger (T.B.) was about to discharge his weapon when the vehicle came to a stop.”

A search of the Honda after Villalobos and his passengers were taken into custody revealed the driver was in possession of a concealed Springfield XD 933 handgun with a full magazine and one round chambered.

The prosecution of Villalobos is just one of nearly 200 cases related to human smuggling that have been initiated by Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre since last summer. Most of the charges involve low-level felonies, but two Maricopa County residents are awaiting trial on murder charges in unrelated human smuggling incidents.

In January 2021, William Maurice Brown of Mesa on probation out of Maricopa County for felony aggravated assault when he attempted to flee from USBP agents in southern Cochise County while transporting several undocumented border crossers.

Brown drove  his pickup at highspeed through a roundabout when the vehicle flipped, leaving two migrants dead. He is charged with 15 felonies including first degree murder, endangerment, and unlawful flight.

Another defendant indicted on a murder charge is Felix Mendez, who was 16 when he drove from Maricopa County on Oct. 30, 2021 to engage in human smuggling.

Court records show Mendez failed to stop for a USBP vehicle , then drove at high speed through a redlight at an intersection with three Mexican nationals on board. A Benson woman who had the right of way was killed instantly when her vehicle was broadsided by Mendez’s car. She was heading to her birthday party, according to public records released by Homeland Security Investigations.

Ducey Signs Bill To Address Human Smuggling, Make Some Crimes Against Kids Prison Mandatory

Ducey Signs Bill To Address Human Smuggling, Make Some Crimes Against Kids Prison Mandatory

By Terri Jo Neff |

The sentencing options for several felonies related to child sex abuse, human trafficking, and human smuggling will be significantly restricted in Arizona later this year when new legislation takes effect.

On Thursday, Rep. Leo Biasiucci celebrated the enactment of House Bill 2696 which reforms the state’s sentencing ranges for some of the most horrific crimes against children. It triples the length of prison sentences for some crimes against children under age 15 while prohibiting judges from placing someone on probation instead of in prison for other offenses, including human trafficking and human smuggling. 

“I’m proud to have sponsored this important legislation to ensure that anyone convicted of these heinous crimes serves mandatory prison time with no chance of parole,”said Biasiucci, the House Republican Majority Whip. “Iappreciate the strong support of Governor Ducey and my fellow legislators. These new laws will combat these crimes and make Arizona safer for everyone.”

Under HB2696, the sentencing range for the continuous sexual abuse of a child under age 15 changes from 13 to 27 years to 39 to 81 years. And someone who has a prior felony involving various forms of child abuse would have a sentencing range of 69 to 111 years if later convicted of the continuous sexual abuse of someone under age 15.

Judges will also see new restrictions when sentencing a defendant convicted of luring a minor for sexual exploitation if the minor is under age 15, aggravated luring when the minor is under age 15, as well as sexual extortion.  Such offenses will become prison mandatory and ineligible for probation, suspension of sentence, pardon, or most early releases from confinement.

Luring involves offering or soliciting sexual conduct with another person knowing or having reason to know that the other person is a minor, while aggravated luring involves the use of an electronic communication device “to transmit at least one visual depiction of material that is harmful to minors for the purpose of initiating or engaging in communication” which offers or solicits sexual conduct with a recipient the sender has reason to believe is a minor.

Although luring and aggravated luring often involve online predators, those crimes are also frequently committed by young adults and teens. In addition, the offense does not require an actual victim who is a minor. A conviction can be obtained on the basis of offers or communications with someone the person have reason to believe is under 15, even if that person is a peace officer.

But HB2696 also targets those involved in criminal activity involving human trafficking and human smuggling. Once effective, the new law will allow prosecutors in the state’s 15 counties as well as the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to charge someone who knowingly or intentionally gets involved in a human smuggling organization or operation.

The bill adds a provision to Arizona Revised Statute 13-2323A making it a crime for someone to knowingly assist a human smuggling organization or operation “by transporting a person, or procuring the transportation for a person” with the intent to conceal the person from a peace officer or to assist the person in fleeing from a peace officer “who is attempting to lawfully arrest or detain” that person.

Several law enforcement officials from across the state attended Thursday’s bill signing by Ducey. During the event, the governor made pointed comments about ongoing border crisis, while praising Biasiucci and the bill’s 32 bipartisan co-sponsors for ensuring anyone who aids illegal human smuggling organizations or operations will be held accountable.

“We’re taking another critical step to fill the void in leadership left by the federal government’s unwillingness to secure the border,” Ducey said. “We have seen a dramatic increase in human smuggling at the border since President Biden took office. I’m hopeful this new law will help to save lives and deter more migrants from making the dangerous journey to our border.”

Biasiucci’s bill was opposed by the Arizona Justice Project, the William E Morris Institute for Justice, and Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. The sentencing requirements do not take effect until later this year and are not retroactive.

Nothing in HB2696 restricts the ability of a governor to commute a sentence in accordance with existing state law.

Arizona Law Could Get Tougher On Those Engaged In Human Smuggling Transportation

Arizona Law Could Get Tougher On Those Engaged In Human Smuggling Transportation

By Terri Jo Neff |

Prosecutors in Arizona’s border counties have long complained of having no consequential option for charging people who engage in transportation of undocumented non-U.S. citizens (UNCs), but that could substantially change if Senate Bill 1379 is enacted.

It is currently only a Class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona Revised Statute 13-2929 if a person “unlawfully transports, moves, conceals, harbors or shields undocumented immigrants.” A Class 1 misdemeanor conviction provides for a jail (not prison) sentence of no more than six months, and in many courts it can take that long just to get a case to trial.

But SB1379 would reclassify human smuggling transportation activities involving one UNC as a Class 6 felony, making prison time an option. Felony convictions also trigger a loss of many civil rights, including the right to possess or use a firearm.

In addition, the bill would allow state and county prosecutors to charge those involved in the transportation of 2 or more UNCs with a Class 4 felony. This significantly changes the current group prosecution option under ARS 13-2929, which requires at least 10 UNCs to be in a vehicle in order to charge as a Class 6 felony.

SB1379 even redefines who can be charged under state law with engaging in human smuggling transportation. Currently a person must already be in violation of another “criminal offense” in order to be charged under ARS 13-2929. The bill rewords that prerequisite to a violation of a criminal “law or statute.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB1379 on Thursday. It is waiting to clear the Senate Rules Committee next.