RUSK, Texas (KETK) – Cherokee County deputies discovered 24 illegal immigrants in an SUV during a routine traffic stop on Sunday.
At about 2:15 a.m., CCSO deputies stopped a Chevrolet Suburban on Highway 69 south and FM 84 east in Rusk after observing the vehicle make a traffic violation.
The driver of the Suburban is identified as Maria Lopez. After further investigation by the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), it was determined that all of the passengers entered the U.S. illegally except for Lopez.
The immigrants are originally from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. Lopez allegedly picked them up in Houston and was driving them to Mississippi and Florida for compensation.
According to CSCO, it was revealed that Lopez allegedly assisted in smuggling 12 other loads of illegal immigrants into the U.S.
“It’s not something we catch often, but it happens often,” Sheriff Brent Dickson said. He added that it wasn’t clear exactly what they were doing in East Texas.
Dickson said they advised they were going to Florida at first.
“We told her I-10 runs from Houston to Florida. She said ‘well I like to take the long route because it’s more scenic’. We don’t truly know where they were headed,” Dickson added. “They’re destination could have been Cherokee County or somewhere up north, we don’t know.”
Upon further investigation, authorities found Lopez in possession of controlled substances XTC and methamphetamine both first degree felonies.
Lopez is currently at the Cherokee County Jail being held for the drugs as well as the federal charge of smuggling immigrants for financial benefit and is waiting to be taken by federal authorities.
“Everyone wants to come to a better place and I understand that, but we have to do things a certain way to make sure we’re vetting the people who are coming into this country,” Dickson mentioned. “We don’t want terrorists. We don’t want rapists and murderers. We want good people who want to come here and work and do the right thing and earn the right living.”
Dickson added that East Texans shouldn’t be surprised and that there has been a rise in these types of arrests.
On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) picked up 21 of the immigrants and transported them to a secured facility in Dallas, the other three were released and transported to a temporary shelter in Longview.
KETK reached out to ICE for more information on the case, however, since the investigation is ongoing, they would not offer comments as of this writing.