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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGELA DODGE

February 7, 2011

PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER
(713) 567-9388

23 YEAR OLD, FIRST TIME FELON, SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR HARBORING UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS

(LAREDO, Texas) - A 23-year-old Mexican national, convicted of harboring illegal aliens at a local motel, has been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

On Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011, U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Raul Valencia-Gonzalez to 75 months in federal prison without parole. Valencia-Gonzalez's harbored aliens at a Laredo motel and was responsible for providing care to aliens pending payment in full of smuggling fees before being permitted to be transported further north into the United States. According to the material witnesses, the motel room was dirty and hygiene products were not provided, and they were fed only once a day despite complaints of hunger.

In the instant offense, Valencia-Gonzalez harbored approximately 11 undocumented aliens. However, further investigation revealed that he had rented rooms at the motel throughout the months of July and August 2009 to harbor aliens. Because the aliens were not to be transported further north until all fees were paid up-front, some of the undocumented aliens were held involuntarily.

The arrest of Valencia-Gonzalez was brought about after a group of aliens were apprehended on Aug. 19, 2009, by U.S. Border Patrol (BP). The aliens had been transported from the motel without being provided any food prior to being forced to walk for approximately 11 hours through the South Texas brush. BP agents received information regarding a Ford F-350 transporting undocumented aliens on State Highway 44 near Encinal, Texas. After the BP agents positioned their marked unit behind the Ford F-350, the truck veered off of the highway in an attempt to elude law enforcement, drove onto a ranch and subsequently struck a tree. The driver fled on foot through the brush. BP agents discovered a female lying face down on the ground next to the Ford and unresponsive. The female subject was transported for medical assistance, but subsequently died. 

According to witnesses including the woman's husband, Valencia-Gonzalez had harbored the aliens at the motel prior through their trek across the brush of South Texas ranches in the summer heat. The group of 11 aliens had only been supplied with five gallons of water by the smugglers during this long half-a-day walk. Because of the limited water supply, the undocumented aliens had to resort to drinking water reserved for cattle. The deceased's husband recalled his wife having difficulty walking through the brush. She complained of being very tired and in particular, thirsty. He also recalled the smugglers not caring about his wife and left her out in the brush - helpless.

A co-defendant, Ernesto Raul Mendoza, whose role in this smuggling operation was to courier the money generated from the fees demanded, has also been convicted and is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 28, 2011. He faces statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a $100 special assessment.

Mendoza had been previously released on bond and was allowed to continue on that bond pending sentencing. Valencia-Gonzalez has been in federal custody without bond and faces deportation upon completion of his sentence. 

Assistant United States Attorney Suntrease Williams is prosecuting the case.

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