McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A Mexican national has pleaded guilty to illegally transporting 85 migrants for financial gain through South Texas in a hot locked trailer, the Justice Department said Friday.

Jose Luis Vega-Arzate, 31, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, drove a tractor-trailer full of migrants on May 11 through a Border Patrol checkpoint outside of Laredo, Texas, where a K-9 agent alerted agents to the vehicle. Agents opened the trailer and inside found 85 individuals who were all illegally present in the United States, the Justice Department said.

Vega-Arzate told authorities that he was paid to drive the tractor-trailer. He did not have a commercial driver’s license, nor prior experience driving big rigs. And he, himself, was illegally present in the United States.

He said he agreed to drive the truck to reduce the $8,000 human smuggling fee that he owed to the Mexican cartel that was helping him to cross the border from Mexico.

“According to court documents, he was cautioned to avoid stopping on the way to San Antonio because the undocumented individuals could die due to lack of ventilation resulting from the trailer’s lack of movement,” the Justice Department said in a news release.

Fifty-three migrants died from asphyxia and heat-related illness after being trapped in a trailer that was discovered on June 27 in San Antonio, Texas. It was the deadliest human smuggling incident in the United States.

Earlier this week, four men, including two Mexican nationals, were indicted by grand juries in San Antonio on charges relating to the 53 migrant deaths.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report that 11 of the 53 migrants who died had felony criminal records in the United States. Cuellar, who is from Laredo, is the vice-chairman of the House Appropriation’s Homeland Security Committee

Police and other first responders work the scene where officials say dozens of people have been found dead and multiple others were taken to hospitals with heat-related illnesses after a tractor-trailer containing migrants was found June 27, 2022, in San Antonio. Two men were indicted Wednesday, July 20 in the case. (AP File Photo/Eric Gay)

Homeland Security Investigations is investigating the San Antonio trailer deaths. Agents with HSI also investigated Vega-Arzate.

He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo is scheduled to impose sentencing on Oct. 20 in Laredo.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com