Military troops have joined border agents at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego County. A Marine spokesman says his unit was sent to help support the southern border. (Nov. 8)
A Central American man traveling with a migrant caravan heading for the U.S. border kneels to beg for a ride on the highway connecting Guadalajara with Tepic, Mexico, on Nov. 13, 2018.(Photo: Rodrigo Abd, AP)
WASHINGTON — A California National Guard soldier has been charged with human trafficking after he was arrested near San Diego over the weekend, as the Pentagon’s military buildup at the Southwest border continues.
Edward Jair Acosta-Avila was charged in federal court with attempting to smuggle three Mexican men into the United States, according to court documents. Acosta-Avila is a private in the California Army National Guard, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Keegan, a spokesman there.
Acosta-Villa was pending discharge for being absent without leave (AWOL) at the time of his arrest, Keegan said.
News of the arrest of an American soldier for human trafficking comes on the eve of the visit of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to the southwest border. President Donald Trump has ordered as many as 7,000 active-duty U.S. troops to California, Arizona and Texas as a show of force against caravans of migrants from Central America.
Mattis is expected to visit with the troops and observe their operations. Critics, including former President Barack Obama, have called the deployment of active-duty troop a political stunt. Mattis has rejected that characterization.
The first group of migrants arrived Tuesday. Trump repeatedly railed against the migrants in the run up to last week’s midterm election in which Democrats seized control of the House. Trump has said little about them since.
So far, about 5,000 active-duty troops have been deployed to the border, joining about 2,100 National Guard soldiers who have been assisting Border Patrol agents. They have been stringing concertina wire at ports of entry into the United States and providing other logistical support.
The soldiers were supposed to help agents prevent migrants from entering the United States illegally. Instead, Private First Class Acosta-Avila hoped to profit from smuggling them past authorities, according to court documents. Acosta-Avila had not been assigned to border duty, Keegan said.
On Saturday, a Border Patrol agent stopped a Honda Accord driven by Acosta-Avila about two miles north of the border, according to a criminal complaint. Three men in the back seat tried to hide beneath a blanket.
Acosta-Avila told authorities that another man had asked him to drive to the area near the border to pick up some people near the border. Acosta-Avila’s friend and co-defendant told authorities that he planned to split $400 with him for sneaking the three Mexican men into the United States.
The Mexican men told authorities that they “made smuggling arrangements and agreed to pay between $6,000 and $7,000 each to smuggled into the United States.”
Acosta-Avila was charged with transportation of certain aliens for financial gain. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
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