Donna teen sentenced for coordinating immigrant smuggling

U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced a Donna teen to five years in prison on Monday for heading an immigrant smuggling operation that in one case resulted in a rollover crash.

Jesse Zuniga, 19, of Donna pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport undocumented aliens in December.

Zuniga coordinated the smuggling of immigrants into the U.S. “at least” twice, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas news release. Crane noted on Monday that Zuniga had been accused of smuggling immigrants when he was 15, 16 and 18 years old.

Last April, U.S. Border Patrol agents saw a group of 16 immigrants enter a SUV then attempted to pull the driver over near Donna. Instead, the driver fled and eventually reached 100 miles per hour before the SUV rolled over in a field, injuring five immigrants suspected of being in the country without authorization including a 3-year-old.

The second smuggling attempt took place in October 2017 near Donna where 10 immigrants suspected of being in the country without documentation were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents. A man and a woman involved in the smuggling of the group admitted to federal agents that they were hired to drive by Zuniga.

Zuniga told the two drivers that they would be paid $300 per immigrant. Zuniga, though, told them he would earn $1,000 per immigrant successfully smuggled into the U.S.

Zuniga coordinated the smuggling of immigrants out of a trailer home on the 1500 block of Comila Street in Donna, according to the criminal complaint in the case.

Zuniga remains in custody pending incarceration at a federal prison.

Three others involved in the human smuggling ring are scheduled to be sentenced in April and June.