For 16 illegal immigrants found squashed in a truck Wednesday, it was their lucky day when federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials let them go.
Two vehicles holding a total of 32 illegal immigrants were stopped in Payson July 16.
When immigration officials arrived at the Gila County Jail to pick them up, they could only take 16 in the two vans they brought. The rest were set free.
The first stop happened near milepost 249 on Highway 87, south of Payson.
A black Ford pickup with a silver camper shell was going 84 mph in a 65 mph area, said Department of Public Safety Officer Jimmy Simmons.
When Simmons stopped the truck, he noticed nine passengers lying down in the back of the truck and seven sitting up front. Four of the occupants were female, all were adults and all were from Mexico.
The passengers were coming from various places and going to different places around the country to work, Simmons said.
They were taken to the Gila County Jail where they were detained until ICE officials came.
It is a federal violation to traffic illegal immigrants, but DPS officers are not federal officers so they can only hold them until ICE comes, Simmons said.
"If they don't want them, we have to release them," he said.
The driver of the truck was cited for speeding.
In the second incident, a Gila County Sheriff's deputy talking with the driver of a green Ford pickup at Maverik gas station on North Beeline Highway noticed 16 people inside the truck.
The driver did not have a valid drivers license and some of the persons did not have identification, said Deputy Dennis Newman.
All were taken to the Gila County Jail. When ICE came they brought two vans, which could only hold 16 people, Newman said. The other 16 people were "cut loose" outside the jail.
The driver said he was getting $50 a head in gas money to take the illegal immigrants to Memphis, Tenn., Newman said.
It is fairly common to make four or five stops like this a year, Simmons said.