A Brazilian man trying to illegally enter the United States was caught crammed inside the gas tank compartment of an SUV at a border checkpoint in Southern California, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
The bizarre border bust happened around 3:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Calexico East Port of Entry, located approximately 130 miles southeast of downtown San Diego.
CBP officers noticed a 2001 Toyota Sequoia entering the east port. The SUV — driven by a 40-year-old U.S. citizen — was referred to another point at the port of entry for further examination.
While inspecting the SUV, officers used an imaging system and found anomalies in the gas tank and under the back seats, authorities said. As officers scoured the vehicle, they discovered a man hidden inside the gas tank, which had been partially modified to include a large, human-sized compartment.
The man, a 38-year-old citizen of Brazil with no legal documents to enter the U.S., was pulled from the compartment and taken into custody by CBP officers.
The driver of the SUV, a resident of Calexico, California, whose name was not released, was arrested at the checkpoint on suspicion of human smuggling. He will face federal charges, CBP officials said. He was booked into the Imperial County Jail, and his vehicle was seized by officers.
Following the driver’s legal proceedings, CBP officials said the Brazilian man will be removed from the U.S.
David Salazar, Acting Port Director for the Calexico Ports of Entry, said the vast majority of human smuggling attempts at that particular spot involve citizens from Mexico, as the checkpoint is right on the U.S.-Mexico border.
From time to time, however, Salazar said officers do encounter "smuggling attempts involving citizens from Central and South America, as well as other areas around the world."
"CBP has no tolerance for violations of immigration law, especially cases involving human smuggling in such hazardous conditions," he said.
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According to the CBP, in fiscal year 2014, officers at border crossings between California and Mexico apprehended more than 33,000 people trying to enter the U.S. illegally.