A Mexican citizen who said he only wanted to help his family after he was caught transporting illegal immigrants was sentenced Monday to time served since his November arrest and ordered deported.
Joni Rivera-Rodriguez has been in custody since he was caught in Kansas driving a passenger van carrying 16 illegal immigrants who were citizens of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. He pleaded guilty in February to bringing in and harboring illegal immigrants.
Rivera-Rodriguez tearfully asked for forgiveness, telling U.S. District Judge Monti Belot in Spanish that he had unknowingly done wrong and never thought at the time that what he was doing was so bad.
Seven passengers who also were indicted already have pleaded guilty to illegally re-entering the U.S. after deportation. All were sentenced to time served and ordered deported.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson said Monday that the Kansas case is tied to a federal immigrant-smuggling investigation of Houston transportation businesses.
The investigation has led to the arrests of 209 people since November, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE executed nine search warrants at Houston transportation businesses last month and charged owners and managers with using their businesses to transport recently smuggled immigrants across the United States.
The Kansas arrests came after a police officer became suspicious when he spotted several people milling around a van at a Scott City motel. The officer questioned the passengers as to their legal status, and each responded they were not in the country lawfully, according to an affidavit from ICE agent Rick Moore.
The affidavit contends one of the men told police the passengers were being driven from Houston to Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. A manifest in the vehicle listed passengers, destinations, telephone numbers and what appears to be the price of each trip.