Two Arizona trucking companies have been accused of illegally hiring Mexican drivers to deliver their produce for considerably lower pay than their American counterparts.
Trucking company owners Luis Rivera and Jimmy Watson Sr. were indicted on October 22nd and October 23rd in Tucson, Arizona.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, both Rivera and Watson were involved in a scheme during which a US truck driver would haul cucumbers, bell peppers, other produce, and even beer through the Interstate 19 Border Patrol checkpoint while a Mexican driver with a business visa simultaneously passed through the checkpoint in a pickup.
After both had made it through the checkpoint, the trucker would pull into a parking lot at the Desert Diamond Casino or at a truck stop or motel and switch vehicles with the Mexican driver, who finished hauling the produce to either Dallas or Los Angeles, documents say.
The Mexican nationals involved all possessed B-1 visas, meaning that they are able to make deliveries across the border but only to a specific destination, and are not allowed to make multiple stop deliveries within the United States.
Agents believe that Rivera, owner of L and R Trucking in Nogales and Sunset Truck Leasing in Rio Rico, was able to run the scheme 44 times, while Watson, owner of JSJ Enterprises Transportation in Nogales, is believed to have run it 23 times.
The two are now faced with charges of harboring the drivers for profit and may each be ordered to surrender at least 15 vehicles used in the operation, including tractor trailers and sedans.
Officials received tips regarding the situation via the Homeland Security Investigations tip line from truckers claiming that they were losing jobs because the businesses were hiring the B-1 visa holders and paying them $300 to haul cargo to Los Angeles, while US truckers charge $600 for that distance.
“Circumventing visa rules hurts the trucking industry and it hurts the citizens of Santa Cruz County,” said Francisco Burrola, deputy special agent in charge for HSI in Tucson.
“Long story short, if we don’t fix this soon, 100 companies will close in Nogales,” said Jimmy Watson Jr., son of Watson Sr., who also pointed out that the B-1 visa regulations were not enforced at the Nogales checkpoint until June of 2017, and that qualified US drivers were difficult for his father to find.
Around 12 people involved in the situation have already been deported back to Mexico.
Rivera and Watson’s lawyers have refused to comment on the case.