EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant smugglers are growing bolder on New Mexico roads, speeding through highway checkpoints with people hidden in car trunks, court documents show.

The smuggling activity often transcends state borders, with drivers picking up migrants in Arizona and taking them through New Mexico or hooking up with their charges in communities like Sunland Park and Santa Teresa and ending up in El Paso, Texas. Pursuits often involve drivers unwilling to stop for law enforcement and sometimes end with deflated tires and smugglers and migrants being airlifted to hospitals, records show.

Most of the drivers are U.S. citizens – sometimes teenagers – recruited for money by acquaintances who are part of smuggling networks. Others responded to social media postings. In some cases, the driver was an undocumented migrant seeking to pay off installments of his debt to the “coyotes,” the court filings show.

“Arrested smugglers intercepted in recent smuggling schemes have been primarily from Mexico and the United States. However, they have also come from other countries such as Venezuela, Honduras and Cuba,” the U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement to Border Report.

The agency added that prosecutions for migrant smuggling are up in the New Mexico portion of the El Paso Sector. So is the number of stash houses being discovered throughout the sector.

Small towns deal with collateral damage

Local police agencies attempting routine traffic stops are often alerting the Border Patrol to smuggling schemes, court records show.

That was the case on March 14 in Hidalgo County, when sheriff’s deputies tried to stop a black Mazda CX-5 for a speeding violation on New Mexico Highway 80. The driver failed to yield and sped up until merging into Interstate 10.

The deputies called on the Border Patrol for help and the federal agents deployed a tire-deflation device ahead of the speeding Mazda, busting up the front tires. Court records show driver Francisco Perez Mercado allegedly continued the flight on two bad wheels, with one of his passengers later telling investigators she threw up because of the way he was driving.

The black Mazda came to a stop after colliding with a civilian vehicle in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Perez, a U.S. citizen, his companion, Christina Lynn James-Blake, also an American, and two of the three migrant passengers were airlifted to hospitals due to their injuries while the third migrant received care in Lordsburg.

James-Blake allegedly told Homeland Security investigators that she availed her vehicle to the smugglers for $1,000. She said she and Perez picked up Mexican and Guatemalan migrants at a Douglas, Arizona, motel and were to drive them to Phoenix, taking a detour through Southwestern New Mexico to avoid highway checkpoints.

One of the migrants told investigators smugglers charged him $8,000 to get him across the border and past highway checkpoints.

Recruited through Craigslist

A Border Patrol agent near the New Mexico-Arizona border on Feb. 28 noticed a passenger inside blue Hyundai duck when spotted. The back end of the Hyundai appeared to be too close to the ground, so the agent resolved to question the driver.

But the driver sped up as soon as the agent turned on his emergency lights and headed southwest toward Arizona, court documents show. The agent pulled off the pursuit entering Rodeo, New Mexico, but other agents past the town were waiting with a tire-deflation device. The Hyundai’s front tires shredded and driver Gabriel Scott, a U.S. citizen, stopped and surrendered. The passenger who ducked identified himself as a citizen of Mexico illegally in the United States, and the agents found another two Mexicans concealed in the trunk throughout the flight.

Scott allegedly volunteered that he picked up the migrants in Nogales, Arizona, and hid two of them in the trunk for more than three hours. Scott said he was recruited by smugglers through an ad on Craigslist for an undisclosed amount of money, court records show.

Smugglers traveling in caravans

A border agent on roving patrol north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the pre-dawn hours of March 16 spotted a two-vehicle caravan going north on Interstate 25. The agent saw a dark-colored Dodge Challenger following a gold Jeep that had its lights off.

The agent followed the vehicles to an upcoming Border Patrol checkpoint, where the driver of the Challenger revved up the engine and sped past traffic, court records show.

A pursuit ensued with the driver later identified as Jorge Luis Freyre pushing the Challengers to speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour and swerving along traffic lanes. A Border Patrol supervisor terminated the pursuit, but another group of agents minutes later spotted the vehicle on New Mexico Highway 185. Those agents deflated the Challenger’s front left tire.

Freyre stopped the vehicle two miles down the road and surrendered. He allegedly told investigators he was a member of the Chuco Tango gang, court documents show. There is no word on what happened with the female driving the gold Jeep.

A trailer with migrants was stopped at a Border Patrol highway checkpoint in New Mexico. (CBP photo)

Two days later, border agents spotted another two-vehicle caravan near the Antelope Wells, New Mexico, port of entry. The port opens at 10 a.m., so the agent became suspicious of the vehicles traveling back and forth at 1:45 a.m.

The agent called for backup and two Border Patrol vehicles attempted to stop a white Chevrolet Silverado and a 2006 Honda Pilot near New Mexico Highway 81. The vehicles allegedly failed to yield and another group of agents deployed tire-deflation devices near NM 81 and NM Highway 9.

The vehicles eventually stopped, and border agents apprehended seven migrants wearing camouflage clothing inside the Silverado and three inside the Honda Pilot. All were from Mexico. One driver, Marco Garcia Acevedo, allegedly said he was hired through WhatsApp to transport migrants; driver Carlos Eduardo Cruz Guzman said he is an Arizona resident who entered the United States illegally, court documents show.

‘You got me, man’

A border agent patrolling NM Highway 80 near the Arizona border on Feb. 27 noticed a lone driver of a white SUV with three passengers in the back. The agent followed the vehicle discretely for a while until the driver, on his own, pulled onto the emergency lane, court records show.

The agent approached the driver and when he asked for identification the driver, Matthew Paul Anderson, or Phoenix, Arizona, allegedly said, “You got me, man.” Anderson allegedly told investigators he was “arrested for this before,” and that he got the contract to transport three undocumented Mexican citizens through one of his contacts, court records show.

Anderson allegedly was to be paid an undisclosed amount of money for each migrant once they made it to Phoenix. Anderson has been charged with conspiracy to transport unauthorized migrants.