U.S. Border Patrol (BP) agents have launched a targeted enforcement operation aimed at shutting down a smuggling corridor and finding a wanted, known human smuggler, agents announced Wednesday.
Agents are searching for Mexican national Martel Valencia-Cortez, 39, after he allegedly tried to smuggle 14 people into the U.S. and hit an agent with a rock while running from him, Border Patrol officials say.
"Valencia-Cortez poses a unique threat to public safety due to his propensity for violence and his complete disregard for human life," a statement from the U.S. Border Patrol said.
In an effort to catch Valencia-Cortez, a surge of personnel will shift their focus to East San Diego County, where officials say the known smuggler conducts much of his work. Agents will also target his known associates. Local, state, federal and Mexican law-enforcement partners will assist.
Authorities say information received from the public shows Valencia-Cortez is associated with a transnational crime organization headed by a person known as “El Tigre.” The suspect is a lieutenant in the Sinaloa Cartel and runs many smuggling routes starting between Tijuana and Mexicali, the Border Patrol says.
“Martel Valencia-Cortez is the top priority target for San Diego Sector," said San Diego Sector Chief Patrol Agent Richard Barlow in a statement. "To the fullest extent that we can, we will devote our agents and resources in focused areas to put pressure on him until he is in custody.”
The incident involving Valencia-Cortez and Border Patrol agents took place Nov. 15 near Jacumba. According to authorities, agents encountered Valencia-Cortez and 14 others in the remote terrain on Carries Mountain.
As Valencia-Cortez fled toward higher ground, he grabbed a rock and hurled it at pursuing agents, striking one in the face, the Border Patrol says.
The agent fired his government-issued handgun at Valencia-Cortez, but officials do not believe the suspect was hit. Valencia-Cortez escaped on foot into Mexico, while the 14 people allegedly being smuggled were arrested.
Imperial County Sheriff’s Department, Customs and Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs, and the U.S. Border Patrol are investigating the incident.
Officials have issued a federal arrest warrant for Valencia-Cortez, who is described as 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. Authorities said he has a tattoo on his right shoulder.
Agents said Valencia-Cortez has been involved in numerous human smuggling incidents dating back to 1997. He was involved in at least one manhunt as a result, NBC7 previously reported. Court records describe Valencia-Cortez as a "known foot guide, load vehicle driver and alien smuggling facilitator." He has more than 35 prior apprehensions by Border Patrol agents and was convicted of human smuggling in Mexico.
Agents said Valencia-Cortez has been known to carry a firearm during smuggling attempts and consider him to be armed and dangerous. In the past, agents said, he has been known to resort to violence and evade arrests. He was released from federal custody in September after serving a three-year sentence for alien smuggling.