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Smuggler faces charges after running over migrant while fleeing BP near T-O Nation

A 23-yearold man faces federal charges after he ran over a migrant while attempting to flee from Border Patrol agents during an incident last week near the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Isaiah Osorio, a resident of Albuquerque, N.M., appeared in federal court in Tucson on Thursday, and he faces two charges: transporting people for profit while placing them in jeopardy, and high-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint. On May 24, when he was pulled over by BP agents, Osorio pushed one man out of his vehicle and sped away, running him over with the rear tires of his Jeep Grand Cherokee.

According to a complaint filed Wednesday, Osorio told federal agents he was put into contact with a smuggling coordinator on Facebook and used Whatsapp on his cellphone to set up a plan to smuggle people for money. He later drove to Little Tucson, a small community on the Tohono O'odham Nation about 50 miles southwest of Tucson along State Route 86, and picked up seven people all dressed in camouflage, who had crossed the border sometime earlier.

In court records, a U.S. Border Patrol agent said he spotted a black Jeep Grand Cherokee "driving in tandem" with a Nissan Versa on SR86 toward Little Tucson, which he called "a documented known location for picking up undocumented non-citizens."

A half-hour later, the agent spotted the Grand Cherokee heading eastbound. The agent made a U-turn to get behind the Grand Cherokee, and Osorio "drove to the shoulder as if attempting to stop." One of the passenger doors opened slightly, and one person wearing camouflage attempted to get out. However, Osorio suddenly accelerated and drove for about 50 yards, and then "abruptly stopped," forcing the agent to swerve to avoid a collision, he said.

The Jeep's rear doors opened, and six more men, all dressed in camouflage got out and ran north of SR86. Osorio accelerated again, and the agent said one man — identified as Chavelo Cifuentes-Juan, from Guatemala — fell to the ground, and Osorio drove over his legs.

The agent radioed the Border Patrol checkpoint on SR86, and requested medical help.

The case illustrates how smugglers have increasingly shifted to using social media accounts to coordinate smuggling efforts, and now use cellphones to direct groups through Arizona's deserts, making it increasingly difficult for federal agents to arrest and prosecute smugglers. In previous years, smugglers — often referred to as coyotes — would guide groups through the desert, but federal officials have found in recent years, the wide prevalence of GPS-aided cellphones has allowed smugglers to guide people at a distance without the same risks, or the effort of hiking through Arizona's vast deserts.

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It also shows how smuggling organizations are reaching out to young people and convincing them to smuggle people into the U.S. for cash using social media accounts.

In a statement on Twitter, said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino referred to the case, writing his office has prosecuted "more than a dozen young drivers over the last year for transporting undocumented aliens after recruitment on social media."

"This is dangerous: for the young drivers; for the economic migrants looking for a better life; and for other vehicles on Arizona highways," Restaino wrote.

Cifuentes-Juan told agents his parents arranged for him to be smuggled into the U.S. after he left Guatemala, and he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a group. A smuggler directed the group via cellphone to the pickup location sending them through at least 23 miles of open desert through the Tohono O'odham Nation. The group were told a black SUV would pick them up. When the SUV arrived, the driver honked several times, Cifuentes said, according to court records. Once inside the Grand Cherokee, Osorio drove for about 30 minutes, but "began yelling" at his passengers to "get out."

Cifuentes said he was the last person out of the SUV, but before he was completely out, Osorio pushed him out as he tried to speed away. He fell to the ground and was run over by a rear tire as the SUV took off. Cifuentes was taken to a hospital, and suffered abrasions and head trauma, according to court records.

Osorio headed east toward the SR86 checkpoint, but there agents refused to let him pass, through and instead sent him to the secondary inspection area. Instead of waiting, Osorio accelerated away from the checkpoint "at a high rate of speed," according to court records.

A Border Patrol heading east made a U-turn in an attempt to pull over Osorio, but said he "could not catch up to the Jeep even while driving in excess of the posted speed limit."

The agent stopped pursuing for "community safety," however, a few minutes later, the agent watched as the Jeep slowed on the shoulder, so he pulled behind Osorio and arrested him.

Osorio later told agents he pulled over to let people out and saw one person fall, but he fled the scene without looking in his rear-view mirror.

A video hearing will be held in June against Osorio, and Cifuentes will be held as a material witness.

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U.S. Border Patrol is conducting the investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office is handling the prosecution, said Esther Winne, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A Border Patrol vehicle outside of the San Miguel gate on the Tohono O'odham Nation.