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Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
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Inland Stop of Alien Smuggler Suppressed

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - A traffic stop that snared a human smuggler was illegal because it was more than 50 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, a federal judge ruled.

Border Patrol Agents Donald Kenefick and John Corona spotted a Chevy Suburban just outside of Robstown, Texas, in the early morning of Aug. 10. Robstown is about 150 miles north of the border.

Kenefick followed the vehicle, suspicious of its heavily loaded appearance, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo wrote in her 12-page ruling.

The Suburban's driver slowed from 75 mph to 55 mph and the agents tried to look inside, but the vehicle's tinted windows hid the occupants. Corona ran a registration check and a crossing check on the SUV. Crossing checks tell the Border Patrol what time a vehicle went through a checkpoint.

The officers learned the Suburban had passed a checkpoint in Sarita, Texas, about 50 miles south of Robstown, 24 hours earlier.

The short distance traveled in 24 hours raised red flags for the agents, as illegal immigrants commonly leave a vehicle before a checkpoint, walk around and meet up with the driver down the road.

Kenefick pulled over the SUV and the agents' hunch proved correct. Inside the vehicle were seven people, none of whom were legal U.S. residents.

Severo Canales-Rosales was driving, next to a passenger riding shotgun. There were three people in the backseat, another on the floorboard under that seat, and one in the vehicle's rear storage area.

Canales was arrested and charged with federal felony counts: alien smuggling and harboring.

Canales, a citizen of Mexico, filed a motion to suppress, claiming the traffic stop violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.

Judge Garcia sided with Canales and granted his motion on Nov. 13.

Garcia, a Mexico-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was nominated by President Barack Obama in July 2010 to a federal judgeship in Laredo.

While Garcia acknowledged the agents were right to be suspicious of the Suburban's low profile, she found Canales' sudden speed decrease not so remarkable.

Citing Kenefick's testimony that he initiated the traffic stop "just south" of Robstown, where the speed limit changes to 55 mph, the judge determined Canales deceleration "was not suspicious at all."

Kenefick and Corona testified that in their experience Suburbans and other large SUVs in South Texas are often used to smuggle immigrants. But Garcia was unimpressed.

"The stop in this case occurred in South Texas, an area where many law-abiding individuals prefer to drive larger vehicles," the order states.

For Garcia, the motion ultimately turned on one factor: the distance of the traffic stop from the border.

Garcia cited United States v. Morales-Rosales, from the Eastern District of Texas, which was based on a similar traffic stop of a weighted-down vehicle with tinted windows more than 50 miles from the border.

The judge in that case upheld a magistrate's finding that the stop was not backed by reasonable suspicion.

"Morales-Rosales sensibly found that when close proximity to the border is absent, the facts presented in that case, quite similar to the ones presented in this case, do not support a finding of reasonable suspicion," Garcia concluded.

Federal prosecutors did not respond to a request for comment.

In Latin America, people customarily have two last names: a patronymic followed by the matronymic. The matronymic is used only on formal occasions; people go by their "first" last name. For example, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is known as Salinas.

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