Human Smuggling Highlighted in Harrisonburg

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HARRISONBURG,Va. (WHSV)-- A crackdown on human smuggling has landed nearly 200 people behind bars.

You might be surprised to hear it's happening in the Valley.

Interstate 81, or I-81, takes us to work and takes us home. But I-81 is also a pipeline for human smuggling.

"Even in Harrisonburg, Virginia," said Scot Rittenberg, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

Agents recently arrested two people in the Valley after traffic stops on I-81.

According to the criminal complaints, agents say Marcos Granados-Garcia and Nelson Yovani Mejia Cardona, were smugglers, or "coyotes," paid to transport illegal immigrants.

"They consider these individuals--human beings--as a commodity," said Rittenberg.

He says human smuggling is dangerous for the people being smuggled. But it's also a danger to the community and the country because we don't know who the people being smuggled are.

"They could be just a person trying to better their life, but they could also be a violent gang member, they could be a violent criminal. And worse yet, they could be someone seeking to do significant harm to the United States," Rittenberg said.

Dulce Elias, of Virginia Organizing, who marched near Bob Goodlatte's office on Jul. 30 for immigration reform, says she understands what those immigrants are going through.

"We'd go through anything to be able to come here and have a better life," Elias said. "So if we would be able to have that chance for comprehensive immigration reform, there wouldn't be a need for that."

If you see something that doesn't seem right, or suspect a case of human smuggling, Rittenberg asks you to report it by calling the ICE tipline at: 1-866-DHS-2ICE.