Local News

Federal Authorities Uncover Possible Immigrant Smuggling Ring

Posted March 31, 2005 7:53 a.m. EST

— Eleven passengers were escorted off a Southwest airlines flight Tuesday and taken into custody, suspected of being illegal immigrants.

The people were taken off Southwest flight 2340 from Chicago at RDU International at 6:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Authorities said that an air marshal who was on the flight overheard some people talking about being smuggled into the U.S. The air marshal then contacted immigration and customs officials who met the plane.

Cary immigration attorney Jorgelina Araneda said although North Carolina attracts thousands of illegal workers, organized smuggling operations typically do not venture too far past the Mexican border.

"If they're using the airlines, I would say it leads me to believe that it was a truly motivated work need. They need a workforce in this state and that's why they were bold enough to try the airlines," Araneda said.

The 11 Mexican nationals were taken to the Johnston County jail where they were held overnight and are still being interviewed.

Authorities said they believe each person spent about $1,000 to get on the flight and that one of the 11 planned the incident.

The other 136 passengers on board were delayed by 15 to 20 minutes after the flight landed. The other passengers reportedly cheered when authorities removed the suspected illegal immigrants.