Eight people are charged with federal immigration violations after an undocumented Mexican immigrant allegedly helped smuggle seven others over the Canadian border in a remote area of Maine last week, authorities said.

Officials said the incident comes amid an increase in apprehensions of undocumented immigrants in Maine, although the numbers are still small compared to other border states in the U.S.

In fiscal year 2018 there were 52 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Houlton Sector, which covers the entire state of Maine, according to the border patrol.

Numbers for the current fiscal year, which runs from October through September, were not available Tuesday. However, Mark Phillips, a supervisory border patrol agent and public affairs liaison for the Houlton Sector, said he’s seen a significant increase in apprehensions at the border.

“It’s a trend we noticed with this particular case,” Phillips said. “It was something we wanted to draw attention to.”

Last week’s case involved seven people suspected of crossing the border illegally in the town of Mars Hill, about 25 miles north of Houlton in Aroostook County.

Mexican citizen Margarito Lucero-Luis, 45, was driving a rented Chevy Tahoe SUV on July 23 when he was stopped by Maine State Police in the town of Bridgewater, just a few miles from Mars Hill, according to an affidavit written by Special Agent Timothy Taber of Homeland Security Investigations and filed in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

A trooper had witnessed the vehicle cross the center line of the road four times and pulled Lucero-Luis over on suspicion he was driving intoxicated, according to the affidavit.

The border patrol was called to assist with translation for the eight people in the vehicle. All said they were citizens of Mexico and none had valid immigration documents, the affidavit said.

Lucero-Luis had a valid Connecticut driver’s license but admitted he did not have any passport or immigration documents allowing him to enter or stay in the United States.

He told authorities he had been in the U.S. for 25 years and was currently living in New York.

The seven other people in the SUV told authorities they had crossed the border from Canada illegally in hopes of finding employment. One man also said he hoped to see his wife here.

Lucero-Luis told border patrol agents he was paid $1,000 to pick the seven up and bring them to New York.

A search of his phone by law enforcement revealed a partial text message directing Lucero-Luis to a Google map pin in the area of Mars Hill.

When authorities went to the site they found shoe prints on a remote path on the Canadian border. Several of the prints matched the footwear of the seven people riding in the SUV, the affidavit said.

All eight were arrested by the border patrol and will be in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, at the conclusion of any criminal proceedings, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Three people were charged with re-entry into the U.S. after removal. They were Pablo Salas-Negrete, 37, Humberto Jose Lopez-Herrada, 27 and Rosa de Jesus-Carreon, 35.

Four were charged with illegal entry: Juan Arturo Othon-Mejia, 35, Ulises Vigil-Romero, 22, Bramdonly Martinez-Bazan, 24, and Martin Moran-Martinez, 21.

Lucero-Luis was charged with bringing in and harboring certain aliens.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said the trooper’s suspicion that Lucero-Luis was intoxicated turned out to be unfounded.

Three of the defendants, Vigil-Romero, Moran-Martinez and Othon-Mejia, have already pled guilty to their charges and were sentenced to time served.

The others, with the exception of Luceno-Luis, who has not yet entered a plea, have pleaded not guilty.

Kaylee Foster, an attorney for Othon-Mejia, said her client hadn’t given her permission to tell his version of events, but said the case is unusual because of the large number of people involved.

Foster said she typically handles illegal entry cases a few times per year and many of the clients come to Maine for work or because they’re trying to leave their home countries for a variety of reasons, including to flee violence.

Terence Harrigan, who represented Moran-Martinez, said he did not want to discuss the case.

Despite the increase in border crossing apprehensions in Maine this year, the number of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants remains small compared to other border patrol sectors.

Across the U.S. in fiscal year 2018 there were 404,142 apprehensions, a 30-percent increase from the previous year’s total of 310,531.

In Maine, Phillips said many of those who cross illegally are immigrants who have already been deported and then attempt to re-enter the country, as was the case with three of the eight recent arrests. He said the border patrol will continue monitoring the wooded area where the group allegedly crossed into the U.S., but it can be a challenge.

“Unfortunately one of the realities we face is we don’t have a lot of manpower,” Phillips said. “We’re always looking to maintain a good combination of technology, infrastructure and manpower. In this case, thankfully, a trooper stopped them for an unrelated issue.”

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