COCHISE COUNTY — Most human smugglers who are being hired by the Mexican cartel to transport undocumented migrants through Cochise County are non-residents recruited via social media with promises of big bucks, the Sheriff’s Office said Monday.
Many of these individuals, so called “coyotes,” are young people from the Phoenix or Tucson areas, and they’re being paid hefty amounts to drive close to the border, pick up their human cargo and get out of Cochise County as fast as possible, Sheriff Mark Dannels told the Herald/Review in an interview Monday.
And with at least three Border Patrol checkpoints that lead out of the county and toward large cities currently shut down because agents have been shifted to the border to deal with the influx of undocumented persons, the sheriff lamented that getting out of Cochise County has never been easier.
“Very seldom do we see people from here (trying to transport migrants),” Dannels said. “It’s a daily thing seeing people from Phoenix.”
Last Friday, Dannels arrested a 21-year-old Mesa man on State Route 92 who sped by the sheriff, driving 14 miles over the posted speed limit. When Dannels stopped the motorist, identified as Juan Angel Gaeta, he also discovered four undocumented migrants in the vehicle.
“He told me he had been paid $1,000 per migrant, so he made $4,000,” Dannels said. “He told me things were tough. He needed the money.”
Two weeks before that encounter, on April 6, Dannels and a deputy nabbed a Phoenix man who was spotted loading four undocumented migrants into his Dodge truck on SR 92 and Kings Ranch Road. The sheriff caught up with suspect Dustin Howerton, 23, who was speeding on Three Canyons Boulevard.
Howerton and his passengers bolted from the truck and ran behind a house, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said. Howerton and two of the undocumented persons were caught that afternoon. The other two, who ran from the scene, were found two days later, Capas said.
Cochise County residents for the most part are not being recruited by the Mexican cartel to transport undocumented migrants, Dannels said, because this is a smaller, more rural area compared to Tucson and Phoenix.
“This is also a close-knit area and people here are not tolerating this,” Dannels said. “People call us and let us know what’s going on.”
The one positive factor about the non-resident coyotes, Dannels and Capas said, is their unfamiliarity with the area.
“Some of them end up getting lost, or they don’t know what the speed limits are and you end up catching them on traffic stops,” Dannels said.
But the negatives outweigh the positives, the sheriff said.
Coyotes who do get away unnoticed with their human charges can easily get onto I-10 and head west now that the Border Patrol checkpoints that lead to the freeway have been closed for months, Dannels said.
Additionally, many of those undocumented individuals who make it to Phoenix or Tucson are usually indebted financially to the cartel. They become what both Dannels and Mike Hyatt — the agent in charge of the Border Patrol’s Brian A. Terry Station near Bisbee — call “modern-day slaves.”
“The cartel sells them a bill of goods,” the sheriff said. “They tell them they will live the American Dream, and there is no American Dream. They end up as modern-day slaves until they pay off their debt.”