Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested the driver of a tractor-trailer allegedly carrying 23 undocumented immigrants and more than 200 pounds of pot.
The driver's passenger was also arrested on criminal charges Wednesday on I-10 East near the city limits.
The federal agents allegedly found 18 adult males and two unaccompanied juvenile males in the cargo trailer. In the sleeper cabin, agents allegedly found two adult women and an adult male.
Iliana Holguin is an immigration attorney in El Paso.
"This happens much more often than any of us realize," Holguin said. "Out of desperation, people are fleeing their homes for many different reasons. Many of them are coming to the U.S. to reunite with family members, many are coming because they are fleeing violence and poverty, or natural disasters in their home countries."
Officials said three of the undocumented immigrants were from Guatemala and 20 were from Mexico. The undocumented immigrants are in federal custody pending disposition of their immigration cases, officials said.
Agents also found about 256 pounds of marijuana in the sleeper cabin, officials added.
The driver of the semi truck, 44-year-old Comothial Harper, a U.S. citizen from Bainbridge, Georgia, was arrested and charged with "transporting illegal aliens for financial gain." Gerardo Aguilar-Roque, 35, one of the passengers, was arrested and charged with "possession with the intent to distribute marijuana.
According to court documents, agents found the men and juveniles hiding behind commercial boxes inside the back of the trailer. Everyone appeared to be in good health, even though there was no ventilation inside the trailer.
"The people inside the trailer had a long trip ahead of them, and nothing assures us they would have arrived at their destination alive," said Waldemar Rodriguez, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. "HSI and its law enforcement partners will continue to work tirelessly to dismantle human smuggling networks operating on the border."