Man arrested for attempting to smuggle immigrants to Miami

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:
Fernando mug
Credit: Lee County Sheriff’s Office

A 19-year-old accused of smuggling immigrants to Miami remains in Lee County Jail.

A judge set bond at $21,750 for Abel Fernando Navas-Salazar during a Wednesday morning first appearance hearing.

The Florida Highway Patrol said they pulled over a white Lincoln Navigator with what they described as a fraudulent temporary Texas license plate. This happened along I-75 near MM145 in Lee County on Tuesday.

Troopers said there was a driver along with four passengers in the SUV.

Troopers determined Navas-Salazar was transporting “illegal immigrants to Miami for financial profit.”

He faces multiple charges, including operating a motor vehicle without a valid license, operating an unregistered vehicle, attaching a license plate that wasn’t assigned and four counts of human smuggling.

The four passengers have since been turned over to Homeland Security for immigration processing.

“Certain times maybe something doesn’t look right, or whether it’s the temporary tag, or we just do a routine tag check,” said FHP Lt. Greg Bueno. “We’re asking questions and trip plans and where you going, where you’re coming from. And when you start getting inconsistent stories, and that type of information. Obviously, that raises your suspicion.”

In 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents discovered nearly 19,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida, that’s less than 1 percent of the nearly 2 million found nationwide.

WINK News Safety and Security Specialist Rich Kolko said Navas-Salazar may not have been acting alone.

“There’s some big organizations that do this and there are big bosses and it goes all the way down to the drivers delivering people to different parts of the country at the end,” Kolko said. “The fact that he had a car, had false license plates, nice car actually, may be indicative that there were additional people behind the behind this operation,” Kolko said.

Kolko said human smuggling often turns into human trafficking because people who come to this country for a better life sometimes can’t afford to pay those who got them here and are forced into labor or abused.

white lincoln navigator
Credit: Florida Highway Patrol


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