Venezuelan asylum-seekers charged with migrant smuggling

by: Julian Resendiz
Posted: Mar 1, 2024 / 03:38 PM CST
Updated: Mar 1, 2024 / 03:38 PM CST

Driver says smugglers recruited him at refuge after release by CBP; companion admits to transporting unauthorized migrants before


EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Two Venezuelan nationals who allegedly turned to migrant smuggling while waiting for their asylum hearing in U.S. immigration court are facing federal criminal charges.

A grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on Wednesday charged Nelson Blanco Garcia and Kristian Garcia Fuentes with counts of conspiracy and transportation of illegal aliens.

The charges stem from a Jan. 26 arrest resulting from collaboration between the U.S. Border Patrol and the Army National Guard soldiers operating remote surveillance systems at the border.

The guard alerted Border Patrol to an individual who came over the border wall near Paisano Drive in West El Paso and got into a waiting gray Acura MDX.

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Border agents moved to intercept the SUV and turned on their emergency lights so it would stop. But, according to court documents, the driver failed to yield, made abrupt lane changes and turns as it approached Downtown El Paso. The driver finally stopped at the corner of Paisano and Kansas Street, which usually fields heavy car and pedestrian traffic during the day.

Court documents show the driver identified himself as Blanco Garcia, a Venezuelan national who crossed the border illegally last May but was released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection with a notice to appear in immigration court later.

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Blanco Garcia allegedly told investigators that he met several migrant smugglers at a refuge after being released, and they offered him work. The driver stated he had worked with Garcia Fuentes before and that his employers told him to collaborate with him on the Jan. 26 smuggling attempt, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Investigators also questioned Garcia Fuentes, who said he entered the United States illegally between ports of entry last September and was living at a migrant refuge home after being released with a notice-to-appear.

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Garcia Fuentes allegedly told authorities he had just returned from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he dropped off an undocumented non-citizen for money.

The defendants allegedly told investigators they would be paid $300 for picking up the man who scaled the border wall on Jan. 26, and were waiting for a call from a smuggler leader as to where to drop him off.

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This is at least the second case in El Paso involving an asylum-seeker accused of migrant smuggling.

On Dec. 4, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers collaborated with the Border Patrol in the arrest of Alberto Gonzalez Pena, a Cuban national with a pending asylum case in the U.S. Records show Gonzalez had previously been arrested in 2021 on another migrant-smuggling case, but was not prosecuted.