Twenty-four illegal immigrants were detained by Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies about 2:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 3.
A Chevrolet Suburban, having been observed making a wide right turn, was stopped on US-69 and F.M. 84, according to a social media post by the sheriff’s department.
Having made the stop, it was discovered that driver Maria Lopez, of Houston, had 24 illegal immigrant passengers inside the vehicle.
“It’s a dangerous situation, 24 people in a Suburban that’s probably meant for eight at the most. It’s not safe for the other citizens on the road as well as people in her vehicle and that is what initially brought attention to her vehicle, her unsafe driving,” Cherokee County Sheriff Brent Dickson said.
All the passengers were initially detained on the side of the road and then transferred to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office for processing where Homeland Security was contacted for assistance, according to Dickson.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department and Homeland Security Investigations determined Lopez was not in the country illegally, although all of her passengers were. They were originally from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
Lopez, eventually told law enforcement that she was driving the 24 passengers to Mississippi and Florida, for compensation.
“I-10 runs from Houston to Florida, so why was she headed that way? That was a lot of our problem in that scenario, as well,” Dickson said. “That was the story she told us.”
It was further determined that Lopez had assisted with smuggling 12 separate loads of illegal immigrants in the States.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement transferred 21 of the illegal immigrants to a secured facility in Dallas on Oct. 4. The remaining three were released and transported to a temporary shelter in Longview.
“Biden gave amnesty to immigrants coming into this country between certain dates and they met that time frame, the three of them did,” Dickson said.
ICE had determined the dates the three had entered the US.
Maria Lopez remains in the Cherokee County jail on charges of manufacture and/or delivery of a controlled substance, smuggling of persons and a wide right turn.