Alleged smugglers arraigned

one migrant died on trek

August 24, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Two Mexican nationals were arraigned in federal court in El Centro this week following their arrest on allegations they led a group of immigrants, among them a woman who died en route, into the United States illegally.

The woman, Maria Isabel Pacheco Madera, died from exposure to the 100-plus degree temperatures in the Imperial Valley's western desert Monday.

Pacheco's five children who were with her on the journey survived.

The alleged smugglers are 28-year-old Jorge Zamudio Velasquez and 31-year-old Sergio Juarez Torres. Both were arraigned Tuesday on felony smuggling charges. Other charges may be considered by the U.S. Attorney's Office, according to Border Patrol officials.

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, 38-year-old Pacheco and her children, ranging in age from 10 to 17, started their journey into the United States on Sunday morning.


After walking for more than a day through the Jacumba Mountain wilderness, Pacheco started to succumb to the heat. When she was unable to keep up with the group, the smugglers reportedly left her behind.

At noon Monday, the county Sheriff's Office notified the Border Patrol about a group of people in distress in the desert.

Border Patrol air operations, the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue Team and additional Border Patrol agents went to the Mortero Wash area, an isolated stretch of desert northwest of Ocotillo.

Agents initially found six immigrants making their way through the desert. Soon after, a Border Patrol pilot spotted Pacheco, who had died.

Border Patrol officials said Zamudio and Juarez were identified as the smugglers who had a led the group of immigrants, including Pacheco and her children, into the United States.

Agents eventually found 15 people that had been part of the group led across the border by the smugglers.

Border Patrol officials said the two alleged smugglers were separated from the group when found. They were arrested after they were identified by group members as the smugglers.

The investigation into the case is ongoing.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service is working with the Mexican consulate in Calexico to ensure the children's needs are met. The children were reunited with their father, who is residing in Tijuana, so they could attend the funeral of their mother.

The death of Pacheco came two days after a similar death of a woman who had entered the United States illegally with her children.

In that case the woman, whose identity has not been released, died in the Ocotillo area after she had crossed with about 16 immigrants.

Her two children, one age 18 and one 13, became separated from the group and were thought to be lost. They were found later asleep on a porch of a residence in the Ocotillo area.

Border Patrol officials said there have been no arrests in that case, adding it is still under investigation.

Agents said it was difficult to find a smuggler in that group because the members had become separated and no one claimed to have been with the woman who died.

Staff Writer Mario Renteria contributed information to this story. Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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