A Nov. 13 sentencing date is scheduled for two brothers who smuggled three sisters across the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to the women's deaths when a snowstorm struck as they traveled through the Laguna Mountains earlier this year.
Cecilio and Ricardo Rios-Quinones, pleaded guilty Tuesday in San Diego federal court to charges of conspiracy, transportation of aliens resulting in death, and bringing in aliens for financial gain for bringing the women into the United States illegally and guiding them through a remote, mountainous area despite not having the proper supplies to make the trek.
Killed in the smuggling attempt were Juana Santos Arce, 35; Margarita Santos Arce, 32; and Paula Santos Arce, 29; all of Oaxaca, Mexico. Autopsies revealed the sisters died due to environmental hypothermia, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A distress call was made at about 1:50 p.m. Feb. 10 regarding five people who were lost and experiencing hypothermia, triggering a rescue operation initiated by the Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue unit.
Agents found Cecilio, 37, and Ricardo, 22, both of Chihuahua, Mexico,
about a dozen miles north of the border.
The sisters were found lying on the ground near a large boulder. Two of them were already dead, and the third died later despite attempts to revive her.
In their plea agreements, the brothers admitted to conspiring with others to act as foot guides to smuggle people into the country, and that they were ill-prepared to guide the sisters. Prosecutors said they lacked clothing, shoes, shelter, food and other equipment needed to hike through the mountains.
The brothers have agreed to provide restitution to the sisters' families, according to prosecutors.
"These three young women lost their lives in horrible circumstances, despite the heroic efforts of many who tried to save them," said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. "This is a tragedy that never should have happened. Unfortunately, migrant deaths are not uncommon because selfish smugglers don't hesitate to place vulnerable victims in grave danger to make money. We will deliver justice to these callous smugglers who value their payday over human lives."