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Press Release

Alien Smuggling Guide Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. – Jesus Ernesto Dessens-Romero, 28, of Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced today by United States District Judge John Hinderaker to 10 years in prison. Dessens-Romero was found guilty by a jury of multiple alien smuggling offenses, 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 his alien smuggling offenses.

Dessens-Romero was the human smuggling foot guide for five Mexican nationals who illegally crossed into the United States on or about February 13, 2021. The group included three sisters – ages 23, 20, and 17 – and their family friend, age 16. Dessens-Romero led the individuals on a perilous route into the rugged and remote Huachuca Mountains near Fort Huachuca in Southern Arizona where there was less law enforcement presence. The group had limited food and water, and at night, suffered through serious weather conditions including cold and snow.

By February 15, 2021, the 23-year-old sister was in significant physical distress. She was unable to eat or walk or follow simple commands. Dessens-Romero told the group that they were close enough to a well-traveled roadway where the sick woman could be found if the group left her. Dessens-Romero did not call emergency services. Instead, he located cell phone reception at higher ground in order to call a transnational criminal smuggling organization. Dessens-Romero then led the rest of the group to Sierra Vista, Arizona, 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 February 16, 2021, to report a missing person. Despite extensive search efforts by United States 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 non-profit organization dedicated to finding missing migrants, to continue searching for the missing woman. On November 20, 2021, members of SOS Búsqueda y Rescate located skeletal remains in an isolated area of the Huachuca Mountains, on the Fort Huachuca Army installation.  Dental records confirmed that the remains belonged to the missing 23-year-old sister. The deceased is survived by her husband and daughter.

Dessens-Romero continued to smuggle undocumented non-citizens within the United States until June of 2021. He used WhatsApp to set up the transportation of undocumented non-citizens to various locations within the United States, including the transportation of two persons through Tennessee. Dessens-Romero was arrested on June 30, 2021, by Tennessee Highway Patrol while transporting these two individuals.

“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.”

“Alien smugglers care only about the money to be made and not about the human beings whose lives they endanger,” said U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino. “Unfortunately, one young woman’s desire for a better life in the United States cost her her life due to the greed and recklessness of Dessens-Romero. This case should serve as a warning to other smugglers and the transnational smuggling organizations they work for: my office and our law enforcement partners will be undaunted in our efforts to bring you to justice.”

This prosecution resulted from the coordinated efforts of Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is part of JTFA, which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime.

Homeland Security Investigations-Douglas conducted the investigation in this case, in coordination with the Fort Huachuca Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, HSI-Nashville office, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, Tucson, handled the prosecution.

CASE NUMBER:            CR-22-00376-TUC-JCH-JR
RELEASE NUMBER:    2024-087_Dessens-Romero

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Public Affairs
Zach J. Stoebe
Telephone: (602) 514-7413

Updated July 2, 2024

Press Release Number: 2024-087_Dessens-Romero