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Border fence in Jacumba Hot Springs, California
REUTERS/Mike Blake
There’s been a border fence in Jacumba Hot Springs since before Trump was president.
SIDE JOB

Two active-duty US Marines face “alien smuggling” charges at the border

By Justin Rohrlich

Two active-duty US Marines are facing federal charges for allegedly picking up a group of undocumented immigrants on July 3 near the border and driving them inland for a fee.

The case offers a window into America’s broader immigration issues, and reveals another unseen consequence of the Trump administration’s hardline policies. Immigration on the southern US border has been marked in recent years by an increase in individuals and families seeking asylum. They are primarily fleeing violence and other harsh conditions in Mexico and Central America. The price they are willing to pay to be smuggled over the border has stoked an underground economy near the border.

One of the suspects, identified in legal filings obtained by Quartz as Byron Darnell Law II, told US Border Patrol agents that he was an active duty US Marine stationed at California’s Camp Pendleton. Law was arrested by the Border Patrol minutes after picking up three Mexican nationals near Interstate 8 in Jacumba Hot Springs, California. Law, a lance corporal, was later confirmed to be a service member by the Marine Corps Times.

Law told agents he was contacted the night before by another Marine who was arrested with him, Lance Cpl. David Salazar-Quintero. Law said Salazar-Quintero asked him if he “was willing to make $1000 USD picking up an illegal alien,” according to court documents.

Law agreed, and the two drove to Jacumba Hot Springs and were guided to a pickup spot via cell phone by someone in Mexico, Law said, explaining that they drove the person to a McDonald’s parking lot in Del Mar, about 85 miles away. But the middleman who met them there to make the exchange never paid them the $500 he had promised, said Law.

On the morning of July 3, Law said Salazar-Quintero called and said he got a call from the same acquaintance, who asked if he wanted to do it again. This time, it would be three passengers, but Salazar-Quintero guaranteed they’d get paid for both jobs that day, in cash.

Law and Salazar-Quintero drove to Jacumba Hot Springs, picking up their passengers at roughly 10am. They were arrested at 10:17am.

Salazar-Quintero, for his part, insisted it was Law who had introduced him to the business, admitting to Border Patrol agents that he had done four similar jobs for a broker who had promised him $500 for each pickup. However, he said, he hadn’t been paid for those jobs.

Even though Donald Trump touts his strict border policies, the threat of stepped-up enforcement simply increases the price coyotes, as people-smugglers are known, can charge for their services. Someone is making money, even if the people doing the driving don’t see much of it. As two of Law and Salazar-Quintero’s three passengers told the Border Patrol, they paid $8,000 each to make the trip.

Update (July 9): This article and headline have been updated with confirmation that both suspects are Marines.