Feds arrest 25 suspects accused of human smuggling

San Antonian Jaime Jaramillo-Hernandez accused of being ring leader of smuggling cell

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio man is accused of being the ring leader of an international human smuggling operation.

The federal government announced Thursday agents arrested that man as well as 24 other suspects who were caught up in a two-year-long investigation.

James Spero, Homeland Security Investigations special agent in charge, announced the arrests of 25 people rounded up this week as part of Operation Project Highway 83, which targeted those who smuggle undocumented immigrants.

"Human smuggling organizations pose a serious threat to our nation's security," Spero said. "These arrests deal a significant blow to a multi-million dollar smuggling organization that has proved to have little regard for human life."

The suspects, all part of the same cell, were caught in different cities across the state.

Ten of the suspects were from San Antonio, including accused ring leader Jaime Jaramillo-Hernandez.

"This person will be coordinating the transportation, the drivers, people to be moved, the collection of funding, so that's why he's the leader," said Deputy Special Agent in Charge Harry Jimenez.

Investigators said the cell was smuggling an average of 150 people per week, hiding them in hot trailers or crammed into vehicles. Some were even found hiding on the tops of trucks inside windjammers.

"Of course, there's no seat belts, there's no security, they have to basically hang on for dear life and they drive up all the way on the highway to the final destination," Jimenez said. "In many occasions, because of vibrations and movements of the vehicle, they slip and some of them have been run over by the same tractor-trailer. Others just rolled onto the road and there's a nearby vehicle and they can be run over."

Investigators said the immigrants paid an average of $5,000 for entry into the U.S. from South and Central America, and Mexico.

While none of the immigrants who were captured are suspected of terrorism, agents said it's always a possibility.

"When we talk about alien smuggling in general, it absolutely poses a threat to border security and national security," Spero said. "They could be a terrorist organization, could be a criminal organization, they could be anyone who wants to hide their true identity from law enforcement detection, come into the U.S. and do us harm."

The suspects are facing up to 10 years if convicted.

Check out the slideshow below of images provided by Homeland Security Investigations depicting some of the ways immigrants are smuggled into the United States.

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