Three Chinese immigrants were found hidden in the trunk of a vehicle trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico on Tuesday.
The driver, Eun Ku Lee, a 33-year-old South Korean citizen, was trying to cross at the San Ysidro Port of Entry about 4:45 p.m. with a valid SENTRI pass when his illicit load was discovered, according to court records.
Lee, who was driving a Jeep Compass with Baja California license plates, told the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry that he was alone and traveling to Chula Vista, the complaint states. He was stopped for a closer inspection because of undisclosed discrepancies.
In the cargo area under a stock cover, an officer found three women stuffed inside, and they were from China trying to cross into the U.S. illegally, the court records say.
According to the records, one woman told investigators that she agreed to pay $60,000 to be smuggled to New York, while another said her uncle had paid her way across and she was going to pay an extra $2,000 if she made it to North Carolina. The third said her cousin had paid her way and that she was going to New York.
The women are being held as material witnesses in the prosecution against Lee, who was arrested on a human-smuggling charge, border authorities said. Lee’s temporary visa allowing him to be in the U.S. legally was revoked, they said
A San Diego federal magistrate judge set Lee’s bond at $20,000 during a hearing on Wednesday.
“Concealing persons in vehicles is dangerous and could have severe consequences,” Pete Flores, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection in San Diego, said in a statement. “CBP is pleased that this outcome was not life threatening and the Chinese nationals were removed safely without medical complications.”
Authorities at San Diego’s ports of entry have reported an increase in Chinese being smuggled in hidden compartments. In fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30, CBP at California ports of entry discovered more than 261 unauthorized immigrants from China — nearly a 50 percent increase from the year before.
© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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