A California man who answered a Craigslist ad looking for a driver wound up getting hit with federal charges when his passengers turned out to be undocumented immigrants who snuck into the country moments earlier.
The case reflects one facet of the larger issue of immigration in America, and how the crackdown by the Trump administration is impacting immigrants and citizens alike.
Authorities arrested the man—identified as Christopher Brian Egbert in court documents obtained by Quartz—earlier this month after trying to evade police in a black Toyota Prius.
Early on the morning of June 2, a US Border Patrol agent monitoring a surveillance video feed watched as seven people climbed a 15-foot-high border fence between Mexico and the United States, about 25 miles east of the Calexico West Port of Entry. Five made it; two turned back for reasons unexplained in filings related to the case.
Shortly before 7 am, according to a sworn affidavit, the surveillance officer watched as the five people got into a black sedan traveling on Interstate 8. When another Border Patrol agent attempted to pull the sedan over, the driver tried to flee, driving through alleys and side streets. Eventually, Egbert stopped.
None of his passengers had papers. So officers arrested Egbert on federal “alien smuggling” charges, which apply to someone who “knowingly has encouraged, induced, assisted, abetted, or aided” another person to enter the US illegally. Egbert agreed to speak to Border Patrol agents, claiming he was simply doing a job he had gotten on Craigslist.
“Egbert stated he was suspicious when he got to the location of the Craigslist ad and noticed that it was not a residence like most of the other rides he has given, but decided to continue with the pick up anyways,” court documents say. “Egbert stated he was told to take the individuals to Los Angeles.”
Egbert’s passengers told agents they had paid smugglers between $6,000 and $7,000 for help entering the US. Egbert said he didn’t know how much he would have been paid for the Craigslist job.
Egbert was indicted June 26. A phone number listed under his name has been disconnected. An email sent to his account was returned undelivered. Egbert’s attorney, John Lemon, was unavailable for comment.
Immigration on the southern US border has been marked in recent years by an increase in individuals and families seeking asylum. They are mostly fleeing violence and other harsh conditions in Central America. The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy left tens of thousands of asylum seekers languishing in federal custody, stretching immigration processing and detention centers beyond their limit.
Read the full text of the complaint here: