Men face 1st human smuggling charges in Eagle Co.
Vail, CO Colorado
WOLCOTT ” Two men were charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into Eagle County Monday, the first time local authorities have leveled that charge in the county’s history, authorities said Tuesday night.
Carlos Ortiz-Lazcano, 29, and Saul Hernandez-Lopez, 27, were arrested and charged with human smuggling and reckless endangerment after a sheriff’s deputy stopped to check on a mini-van with 15 illegal immigrants in it Monday night, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said.
Local authorities developed a policy in December that lets them enforce state immigration law passed more than a year ago. In the past, they have complained about the difficulty of enforcing that law.
“It’s a major step in the right direction and we’re happy we’re able to do more,” said Shannon Cordingly, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.
In addition to bringing illegal immigrants across the border, smugglers bring dangerous elements into the region, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.
“They’re doing it everywhere else, so certainly I would think they’re smuggling drugs, and guns and gang members into Eagle County,” Hurlbert said.
Monday afternoon, a sheriff’s deputy saw a blue mini-van that was headed east driving slowly on Interstate 70 , Cordingly said. The van pulled off at the Wolcott exit and stopped on U.S. Highway 6 under the Interstate, so the deputy stopped to check on them, she said.
None of the illegal immigrants were able to show sheriff’s deputies proper identification, so most were taken to a detention center in Glenwood Springs, Cordingly said.
All were men except for a woman and a juvenile. Cordingly did not know the gender of the juvenile, who was taken outside the United States by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she said.
Some of the illegal immigrants were picked up in Mexico and some said they thought they would be dropped off in South Carolina and Florida, she said.
Hernandez-Lopez had been caught and deported a total of six times in the past for transporting people throughout the United States, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Hernandez-Lopez and Ortiz-Lazcano were being held in Eagle County jail on $100,000 bonds Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Local authorities have complained about enforcing immigration law in the past. More than two dozen illegal immigrants were let go after federal immigration agents failed to respond to calls to pick them up in less than one week in November, sheriff’s deputies said.
Last year, an illegal immigrant pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and spent 60 days in Summit County jail after he was accused of smuggling 17 illegal immigrants across the border. The accused smuggler had faced several years of prison time, but Hurlbert had to dismiss the more serious charges because Immigration and Customs had deported all the witnesses in the case. Hurlbert had heard about the case four days after the arrests occurred.
Under the new policy, people who smuggle illegal immigrants into Eagle County will be prosecuted, Hurlbert said. Clear Creek County, which Hurlbert also serves, was the first county in Colorado to do that, Hurlbert said.
Eagle County’s new policy lets prosecutors depose, or get witnesses’ versions of a smuggling incident, within 72 hours, after which Immigration and Customs generally deports them. The policy has helped better punish human smugglers in Summit and Clear Creek counties, Hurlbert said.
“The idea is that we would be able to use their depositions at trial,” Hurlbert said.
Human smuggling, a felony, carries a penalty of up to six years in prison, Hurlbert said.
Local authorities still cannot enforce federal immigration law, which includes prosecuting people who are in the country illegally, Hurlbert said.
The Summit Daily News contributed. Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or email@example.com.