Tijuana man gets prison time for immigrant smuggling deaths

SAN DIEGO — A Tijuana man has been sentenced in San Diego to more than eight years in federal prison for his role in a smuggling operation that led to two undocumented immigrants being struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 5.

Jorge Luis Martinez-Hernandez, 33, pleaded guilty in April to two counts of bringing in certain aliens resulting in death and six counts of bringing in certain aliens for financial gain. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Marilyn L. Huff on Monday to 97 months in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Martinez-Hernandez last September guided eight people through a hole in the wall near the San Ysidro Port of Entry from Mexico into the U.S., according to federal prosecutors. He got behind the wheel of a waiting vehicle and proceeded to drive away with the immigrants, eventually traveling in the wrong direction on the 5 Freeway.

As Border Patrol officers pursued the vehicle, Martinez-Hernandez stopped on the side of the freeway, got out of the vehicle and guided the migrants across the interstate and over the fence separating the northbound and southbound sides.

Two people were struck and killed after crossing the fence.

Martinez-Hernandez and the six remaining migrants were found hiding near the scene of the accident and taken into custody.

He told investigators that the eight people paid between $7,000 and $13,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. He was set to receive $1,000 per person for his services, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Smugglers see customers as dollar signs and have no concern for their safety and well-being,” said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman. “This office is committed to prosecuting smugglers who exploit immigrants for financial gain.”