COCHISE COUNTY, Ariz. (WOWK) – When a 23-year-old woman from West Virginia was arrested last Friday in Arizona for human smuggling, it prompted discussions on the severity of smuggling in the Mountain State.
According to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, Logan Casto, 23, of Cross Lanes, was arrested near Miracle Valley, Arizona, around 94 miles from Tucson and 204 miles from Phoenix.
She is being charged with human smuggling, unlawful flight from law enforcement and five counts of felony endangerment.
It has become more common for people out-of-state to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border to smuggle migrants into other parts of the country, according to the Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff Mark Dannels. The reason it has become more common is one main reason: money.
Under a new Arizona law that went into effect last September, Arizona Revised Statutes 13-2323, it’s easier to charge drivers just like Casto with human smuggling if they try to hide migrants from law enforcement. It also makes smuggling a class two felony, which warrants prison time without a reduction in sentence length.
“We have a zero-tolerance approach. It’s very strong. We want you to come to our county and enjoy our county, just like most counties in the country do. We don’t want you to come here and commit a crime, and if you do get caught, we hold you accountable to it,” Sheriff Dannels said.
Sheriff Dannels said the increase has been so dramatic that he sees between 1,000 to 1,500 cars in Cochise County each month coming to smuggle.
“To give you another example, over the last 21 months plus or minus, we’ve arrested over 2,700 people. That’s just the ones booked in my jail, for border-related crimes. This is a disappointment. This is frustration,” he said.
The most common ways smugglers find out about opportunities to smuggle migrants is through word-of-mouth and social media. It is unclear how Casto was connected to cartels before her several thousand-mile-long trip to Arizona from West Virginia.
“She’s looking at some possible prison time, no doubt about it. That’s why we have the law to strengthen up the consequences for those who want to partake in this,” Sheriff Dannels added.
Sheriff Dannels said smuggling is a safety concern not only for U.S. citizens and law enforcement, but it puts migrants in danger’s way too.
In Casto’s case, she was chased by deputies at speeds up to 110 miles per hour last Friday with the five migrants in the back of her Volkswagen Tiguan.
“Based on her speeds at 110 miles per hour, based on her conscious decision to do this, she endangered even the migrants. She endangered the citizens in my county and the law enforcement that was pursuing her,” Sheriff Dannels said.
Officials said the big incentive to smuggle is financial gain from cartels. Casto was working with the Sinaloa Cartel according to Sheriff Dannels, and he said smugglers typically earn an average of $2,000 per smuggled person.
“If you’re thinking about it, think twice and make the decision not to do it. It seems like easy money. The reason they come here is it seems like easy money. Average $2,000 per person to pick them [migrants] up in my county and take them north per person, so you can see how lucrative that is,” Sheriff Dannels said.
The bottom line, he said, is that the consequences are severe in Arizona and other border states and could include prison time.
“Don’t become a statistic in my county and change your life forever for a dollar bill. There’s a better way, more legal ways more ethical ways to make that dollar bill. Don’t do it,” Sheriff Dannels said.