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Press Release

Human Smuggling Guide Sentenced to 120 Months in Prison

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Mexican citizen was sentenced today to 120 months in prison for his role in a dangerous human smuggling conspiracy. 

Jesus Ernesto Dessens-Romero, 28, of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Hinderaker for the District of Arizona. In November 2023, Dessens-Romero was found guilty of multiple alien smuggling offenses by a jury, including conspiracy to transport and transportation of illegal aliens for profit and bringing in illegal aliens to the United States for profit. The jury also found that Dessens-Romero placed human life in jeopardy during and in relation to these offenses.

“Human smugglers profit from the exploitation of migrants and routinely expose them to violence, injury, and death,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today’s sentence shows the Justice Department will continue to hold accountable these smugglers and the criminal networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants.”

Evidence presented at trial established that Dessens-Romero was the human smuggling foot guide for five Mexican nationals who illegally crossed into the United States on or about Feb. 13, 2021. The group included three sisters – ages 23, 20, and 17 – and their family friend, age 16. Dessens-Romero led the individuals under his care into the rugged and remote Huachuca Mountains near Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona. He led the group on this perilous route due to less law enforcement presence. The group had limited food and water, and at night, suffered through serious weather conditions including freezing temperatures and snow.

By Feb. 15, 2021, the 23-year-old sister was in significant physical distress. She was unable to eat, walk, or follow simple commands. Dessens-Romero told the group that they were close enough to a traveled roadway where the sick woman could be found if the group left her behind. Dessens-Romero did not call emergency services. Instead, he located cell phone reception at higher ground to call a transnational criminal smuggling organization. Dessens-Romero then led the rest of the group to Sierra Vista where they were picked up by unidentified co-conspirators and transported further into the United States.

The family of the woman left behind contacted authorities on Feb. 16, 2021, to report a missing person. Despite extensive search efforts by U.S. Border Patrol, military officials from Fort Huachuca, Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), she was not located. During this time, Dessens-Romero contacted the surviving sisters on behalf of the smuggling organization to try to convince them to remove a “missing person” social media post. In the months following, HSI worked collaboratively with SOS Búsqueda y Rescate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding missing migrants, to continue searching for the missing woman. On Nov. 20, 2021, members of SOS Búsqueda y Rescate located skeletal remains in an isolated area of the Huachuca Mountains, on Fort Huachuca property. Dental records confirmed that the remains belonged to the missing 23-year-old sister. The deceased is survived by her husband and daughter.

At trial, additional evidence confirmed that Dessens-Romero continued to smuggle undocumented non-citizens within the United States until June 2021. Dessens-Romero was arrested on June 30, 2021, by Tennessee Highway Patrol while transporting two migrants.

This case was a result of the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). Attorney General Garland established JTFA in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Justice Department, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to combat the rise in prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The initiative was expanded to Colombia and Panama to combat human smuggling in the Darién in June 2024. JTFA comprises detailees from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices along the southwest border, including the Southern District of California, District of Arizona, District of New Mexico, and Western and Southern Districts of Texas. Dedicated support is provided by numerous components of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, led by the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, and supported by the Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training; the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section; the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section; the Office of Enforcement Operations; the Office of International Affairs; and the Violent Crime and Racketeering Section. JTFA also relies on substantial law enforcement investment from DHS, FBI, DEA, and other partners. To date, JTFA’s work has resulted in 313 domestic and international arrests of leaders, organizers, and significant facilitators of human smuggling; more than 251 U.S. convictions; more than 186 significant jail sentences imposed; and forfeitures of substantial assets.

The HSI Douglas Field Office investigated the case, in coordination with the Fort Huachuca Army Criminal Investigation Division, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, HSI-Nashville Field Office, and Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona prosecuted the case.

Updated July 2, 2024

Human Smuggling
Press Release Number: 24-843