IMPERIAL — Four people suspected of smuggling undocumented immigrants face charges after U.S. Border Patrol authorities seized two aircraft over the weekend at Imperial County airport.
The two Beechcraft airplanes are believed to have been used in trying to smuggle as many as 12 undocumented immigrants who were all arrested Saturday in two separate incidents, officials said.
One of the commuter airplanes was owned by an Imperial Valley resident, Corona said.
Border Patrols agents conducting a routine check near the Imperial County airport about 5 p.m. arrested six Mexican nationals who tried boarding a commuter aircraft.
A man and woman, suspected of taking the undocumented immigrants to the airport, were among the people arrested along with an American whose name or city of residence was not revealed, officials said. The American is believed to be the pilot, a press statement read.
The second incident that occurred about 8:15 p.m. netted more arrests when Border Patrol agents encountered a second group of undocumented immigrants trying to board an airplane, the Border Patrol reported.
The pilot, who is also American, was arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle the immigrants, the statement reported.
While the case is in its preliminary stages of investigation, the Border Patrol is trying to determine how the undocumented immigrants got as far as they did, said agent and Public Affairs Officer Adrian Corona.
As there have been five seizures of aircraft since fiscal 2010, Border Patrol authorities have foiled immigrant-smuggling attempts at the Imperial County and Brawley airports, Corona said. There have not been any arrests involving aircraft at the Calexico International Airport, Corona said.
Checkpoints have been effective in combating the smuggling of contraband and undocumented immigrants, Corona said. Smugglers are trying to come up with other ways of smuggling, said Corona, adding that the investigation would determine what immigrant-smuggling operation, if any, is afoot in what appears to be a smuggling trend involving aircraft.
Authorities believe that small municipal airports are being used by smugglers because there is less oversight there, Corona said.
“We’re communicating with airport personnel to be on the look out there,” Corona said.
Anyone who knows of suspicious activity going on can call the Border Community Threat Hotline at 1-900-901-2003. People wanting to tip Border Patrol authorities can remain anonymous when calling the hotline, which is operable 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Corona said.
Staff Writer Silvio J. Panta can be reached at 760-337-3442 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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