BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Four Rio Grande Valley residents pleaded guilty to their role in the death of eight migrants whom they allegedly conspired to smuggle across the nation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
Juan Manuel Tena, 40 of Pharr; and Julia Isairis Torres, 37; Israel Torres Jr., 34; and Jose Refugio Torres, 27, all of Roma, allegedly conspired to transport undocumented migrants from the Rio Grande Valley to destinations within the United States. As a result, eight people were killed and two others seriously injured, the announcement stated.
In March 2019, all four were involved in a smuggling attempt from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston. During this failed attempt, a vehicle rolled over and caused the deaths of four non-U.S. citizens with serious injuries to one other.
As part of their pleas, Julia Torres and Jose Torres both admitted to their involvement in the March 2019 smuggling attempt. Israel Torres also pleaded guilty to his involvement on July 26.
The announcement states that Tena and others also attempted to smuggle migrants in February 2022 by watercraft from South Padre Island to the Corpus Christi area.
During that attempt, the watercraft capsized, resulting in the deaths of four other non-U.S. citizens and serious injury to another.
The victims of these two incidents included migrants from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador as well as a 17-year-old boy from Ecuador and a pregnant woman from Honduras.
“Like so many others, the victims in this case wanted to come to America for a better life, but Tena and his associates took advantage of them for profit,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani. “Now they are going to federal prison. Let this case be an example to anyone thinking about smuggling people in the United States, especially using dangerous means. You will be prosecuted. You will be held accountable.”
As part of his plea, Tena admitted to coordinating and recruiting co-conspirators to transport migrants using watercraft and vehicles in both March 2019 and February 2022.
Tena also agreed to the forfeiture of several properties in Roma and Pharr that he admitted to purchasing with the proceeds he received from the conspiracy, the release stated.
All four will be sentenced on Dec. 20. At that time, they each face up to life in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
Julia Torres, Israel Torres and Jose Torres were permitted to remain on bond pending their hearings. Tena has been and will remain in custody pending sentencing.