A day doesn’t go by where Cochise County sheriff’s deputies don’t encounter a vehicle loaded with migrants.

Deputy Bryan Lomeli has lived in Douglas is entire life. He remembers encountering migrants throughout his childhood whether it was seeing them running down alleys, hearing them on the rooftops or jiggling door handles.

It was an everyday occurrence in the early 2000s, when you would hear them on your rooftops and see them walking down the alley way or running down the alley way,” he said. “Its getting to that point again now.

Lomeli estimates the increase in smuggling has occurred over the last two and a half years. In an effort to combat the increased activity in the county the sheriff’s office created the Criminal Interdiction Team in March 2022.

The unit consists of five members from the sheriff’s department. Their goal is to catch as many load vehicles in remote areas of the county as they’re able.

KGUN 9 was granted access to the team via a ride-along with deputies Chris Oletski and Lomeli. That night, they were patrolling East Highway 80, outside of Douglas. Oletski said this route is becoming more popular because it evades highways that have a border patrol check point. Less than 10 minutes outside of Douglas and into our ride along Oletski encountered a load vehicle with five migrants in the car.

He initiated the traffic stop because the driver was driving 10 miles under the speed limit. It wasn’t until Oletski approached the vehicle that he saw the people dressed in camouflage ducking below the windows.

The driver of the vehicles said he was a homeless man from Tucson. He told the deputy that he was approached by someone and asked to pick up the strangers. The driver said he was going to be paid after dropping the people off, but was given fentanyl before leaving for the pick up.

Oletski said drivers are being recruited on social media or in-person to drive to Cochise County to pick people up in different areas of the county. They are paying upwards of $1,000 per person the driver picks up.

Theyre targeting whoever will listen and whoever they can get to come down,” Oletski said. “One case in particular, a younger-ish single mom just before Christmas said she made the choice to come down here and smuggle so she can buy Christmas gifts for her children.

Before being arrested she asked if Oletski could take out the few gifts she was able to buy from the trunk of her car before it was towed away.

Migrants spend days walking in the desert before being picked up. Cartels are working with the illegal border crossers to coordinate the pick up and drop off locations. Once they hear from the migrants the cartels use the messengers to let the pick up drivers know where to go, using GPS coordinates.

Smuggling of any kind is a class two felony in the state of Arizona. The law allows local law enforcement and counties to press charges against people who participate in smuggling.

Growing up in Cochise County, Lomeli says seeing migrants becomes a part of everyday life, but locals should stay vigilant at night. Both deputies advise the public to call local law enforcement if they see something.