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TEXARKANA, Ark. — A Mexican national who was selling illegally obtained U.S. non-immigrant work visas pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to encourage and induce illegal entry for financial gain.

Jesus Martinez-Rubio appeared virtually before U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey for a plea hearing Wednesday with Texarkana lawyer Cory Floyd. Martinez-Rubio was arrested in June and charged in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas.

Martinez-Rubio faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 at sentencing. Upon release, he is likely to be deported.

Martinez-Rubio met June 11 with an undercover officer in Texarkana, Arkansas, whom he believed was a business owner willing to sell H-2B visas, according to a criminal complaint.

"Under the United States immigration laws, a foreign-born national can obtain an H-2B visa to work on a temporary basis in the U.S., provided that the individual has a contract for employment and there is a certified need for such a worker. To obtain an H-2B visa, a petitioning employer must show that there was not a qualified American worker available for the position that had been advertised," the complaint states.

Martinez-Rubio, a native of Mexico, sold visas to foreigners who wanted to come to the U.S. and was targeted in an investigation which began in 2018 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Martinez-Rubio has entered the U.S. on such a visa 37 times since 1997 and last entered the country at the border crossing in Laredo, Texas, on an H-2B visa.

A man who was with Martinez-Rubio at the time of his arrest, told investigators that he paid Martinez-Rubio $1,000 for an H-2B visa to work at a nursery in Mississippi where Martinez-Rubio was a manager. That man reported that he worked at the nursery for about two months but left for a job in Arlington, Texas, at which he could earn more. When the man told Martinez-Rubio he intended to leave for Arlington, Martinez-Rubio charged him an additional $1,700.

Martinez-Rubio told investigators he intended to buy visas for himself and 16 other Mexican citizens at the June 11 meeting with the undercover operative. He said he, his brother and a third man had deposited $17,500 into an account intended for purchasing the visas and paid an additional $2,500 in cash at the meeting June 11.

Martinez-Rubio told investigators "he would personally make $500 for each visa he sold, and explained that the visa beneficiaries were to pay an additional $2,000 each once they had obtained the visas and arrived in Texarkana. He also conceded that the visa beneficiaries were going to use the visas to enter the United States but would not work for the company for which the visas had been issued," the complaint states.

Martinez-Rubio told investigators that buying an H-2B visa is less expensive than being smuggled into the United States.

Martinez-Rubio is currently in federal custody. A date for sentencing will be set once the court has received a pre-sentence report including a recommendation for punishment under federal guidelines.

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