Men tried to smuggle Mexicans into North Dakota at Canadian border, agents say

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers made the arrests Nov. 3 at the Pembina and Dunseith ports of entry.
A U.S. Customs agent interviews a truck driver at the U.S. Border crossing station at Pembina, N.D., in this 2011 file photo. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — Two men were arrested earlier this month in North Dakota while allegedly trying to smuggle Mexicans into the U.S. at the Canadian border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection made the arrests Nov. 3 at the Pembina and Dunseith ports of entry, according to news releases. Alfredo Santana-Mercedes, 41, was arrested at Pembina while Pedro Hernandez-Guarnizo, 50, of Colombia was taken into custody at Dunseith. Both have been charged in federal court with harboring and transporting an alien.

Santana, who is a U.S. citizen, was driving a rental vehicle into North Dakota about 8:45 p.m. Nov. 3 when he was stopped at the border by Customs and Border Protection agents, according to the release. He said he had flown from his North Carolina home to Fargo on Nov. 3, rented a car, visited his friends in Winnipeg for one hour and was returning home, according to court documents.

“Due to inconsistencies in his story, the man was sent inside for further inspection,” the release said.

After finding an excess of luggage, including some with women’s clothing, Border Patrol and Customs agents said they discovered two Mexican citizens had entered the U.S. illegally, according to court documents. Prosecutors allege Santana picked up Ernesto Gutierrez-Torres, 39, and Gladis Villa-Nunez, 34, both of Mexico, in Winnipeg and dropped them off near the Canadian border so they could cross into the U.S. illegally. Santana told officers he intended to pick the two up in the U.S., according to court documents.

Gutierrez and Villa were picked up near Noyes, Minn., a small town just south of Emerson, Manitoba, court documents said. The two applied for visitor visas three times in the past but were denied because they admitted to residing illegally in North Carolina from 2002 to 2006, prosecutors said. The married couple has two children ages 13 and 15 who were born in the U.S., both of whom live in Oxford, N.C. Villa said she and Gutierrez flew from Mexico City to Canada with plans to cross into the U.S.

At the Dunseith port of entry, Hernandez was driving a 2011 Hyundai Sonata when officers stopped him at 1:39 p.m. and searched his trunk, where they found Angel Gabriel Gallardo-Salazar, 39, of Mexico, according to court documents. Hernandez and Gallardo planned to book a flight from Minot to Atlanta, court documents said. Gallardo admitted to not having the proper paperwork to be in the U.S. legally, prosecutors said.

“These arrests demonstrate CBP’s vigilance and dedication to securing the homeland,” said Jason McFadden, Dunseith port director. “CBP officers continue to demonstrate daily vigilance and excellence in detecting those who would try to smuggle.”

The Customs and Border Protection’s Grand Forks Sector covers 861 miles of international border, the most of any sector in the country, with 189 Border Patrol agents, according to the 2017 fiscal report. From Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol reported 496 apprehensions in the Grand Forks Sector, according to the report.

By comparison, Border Patrol agents across the U.S. reported 310,531 apprehensions during the same time, the report said. The busiest sector, Rio Grande Valley, reported 137,562.