You may have seen these images before: undocumented immigrants stuffed in nearly every inch of trucks and cars.
But border officials are calling this latest scheme a first: recruiting African Americans because they are believed to be less suspicious of smuggling.
Federal authorities have indicted five people after border officials say they recruited African-Americans to drive loads of illegal immigrants across the border.
Border Agent Michael Jimenez says this operation was based out of Los Angeles.
That's where the suspected ring leader specifically recruited non-Spanish speaking African Americans as drivers.
“They were working primarily to transport illegal aliens who were smuggled in by various different trafficking organizations,” Jimenez said.
The investigation began in east county San Diego back in January of 2010. That's when border officials began to see an increase in African-American drivers attempting to smuggle undocumented immigrants at checkpoints.
“Some of them contained smuggling compartments in the engine compartments of the vehicles others had modified trunks so they could only be opened by a secret release inside the car that only the driver could use,” Jimenez said. “It couldn't be used by a key from the outside.”
This, he added, is an extremely dangerous method used over and over again -- especially used when it was, in the middle of summer, when temperatures were over 100 degrees in the Jacumba area. Combined with the heat from the engine, the situation could be deadly, Jimenez said.
“It was very unsafe for these people who would be in there for at least 3 hours while they're driven to Los Angeles," he said.
Still, officials say immigrants paid anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 dollars apiece, while drivers were allegedly paid $300 to $800 dollars per person. This was including money for gas and cellphones.
“The people would only transport the aliens up to Los Angeles and would then turn these groups of people over to the smugglers” Jimenez said. “They never would take them to a load house. So they didn't know the final destination in Los Angeles."
It’s a desperate scheme, yet another failed attempt at human smuggling.
Five people are facing federal charges, including suspected ring leader Maria "Reyna" Lopez-Diaz of Compton.
All are facing up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.