Border Patrol arrests 24 people near wildlife refuge

Border Patrol arrested 24 undocumented immigrants and charged two people in the country illegally with smuggling charges after spotting the group walking north Saturday on the eastern edge of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Mexican citizens Rafael Guerrero-Lorenzo, born in 1992, and Tomas Garcia-Padilla, born in 1991, waived detention and probable cause hearings scheduled in their case for Wednesday.

The men are facing federal charges for attempting to transport undocumented immigrants.

Border Patrol foiled the attempt after cameras activated and alerted agents of the group walking north near Tower Road toward Military Highway.

An agent in the area reported seeing a Chevrolet Tahoe and a Ford Minivan traveling in tandem toward the levee road on Tower Road when the agent saw around 20 people emerge from the brush and board the vehicles, according to the criminal complaint.

The vehicles then continued north on Tower Road before turning westbound on Military Highway, court documents show.

An agent caught up with the Tahoe, which slowed down, according to federal authorities.

Guerrero-Lorenzo, the driver, and another man both tried to flee, according to the criminal complaint.

Agents discovered 11 undocumented immigrants inside the Tahoe, court documents indicate.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol tried to stop the minivan, which was traveling north on Alamo Road, according to the criminal complaint.

Authorities used a spike strip to stop the minivan, according to Border Patrol.

The driver, Garcia-Padilla, tried to flee but was caught 200 yards from the vehicle, where agents found 12 undocumented immigrants inside, according to federal authorities.

Both men waived their Miranda Rights and spoke to federal authorities without an attorney, according to the criminal complaint.

“Guerrero stated he was going to receive $250 for each person. Guerrero claimed he was only supposed to pick up five people because it seemed easy to do it,” the charging document stated. “Guerrero states he was instructed to follow a van to the pickup location. Once there, Guerrero stated about nine aliens boarded his vehicle and the rest boarded the van.”

Garcia-Padilla told authorities he was instructed to pick up a van at a store and would receive $800 and an additional $500 for his own smuggling debt for his role in the alleged scheme, according to the criminal complaint.

One material witness from Honduras in the case told authorities his family paid $5,000 upfront in smuggling arrangements.

Another material witness from Ecuador said she crossed the river in a raft along with 30 other people before being told to walk to the vehicles to be picked up, the charging document stated.

A third material witness who was from Mexico said she paid $700 in smuggling fees and crossed the river with about 20 other people, court documents indicate.