A routine traffic stop resulted in the discovery of a human trafficking operation, according to law enforcement officials.
Fairfax County police pulled over a white Ford E-350 with Texas plates on Interstate 66 on Wednesday and found 19 people jammed inside the van, including 18 illegal aliens, charging documents said.
Police called in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who charged two people with transportation of illegal aliens.
Sixteen of the passengers were from Guatemala. The 17th, an unaccompanied 11-year-old girl, was from El Salvador.
Overloaded vans are dangerous, experts say. In April, nine illegal immigrants were killed when a Chevy Astro van carrying 19 people rolled over in south Texas while fleeing from Border Patrol agents. The crash came a day after another illegal immigrant was killed and 17 others were sent to a hospital when a Ford Aerostar minivan rolled over on the same highway.
"Human smuggling is a dangerous practice where all too often the smugglers involved have little regard for human life," said ICE spokeswoman Dani Bennett.
Arrested in the Fairfax case were the driver, Shirley Ann Chavez, a U.S. citizen, and Christian Refugio Camacho Padron, an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Both were charged with transporting illegal aliens, a crime that carries up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
According to charging documents, the immigrants said they paid Chavez and Padron to transport them from Houston to various points in the United States.
Chavez admitted she had been hired to transport the illegal aliens to various places around the country for $500, and had made a similar trip in April. Padron said he was paid $600 to drive.
The passengers had already been smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico when she picked them up, Chavez said.
Chavez told police that she was given $1,000 for food and gas. She had made one drop-off in Little Rock, Ark., and was paid $700. Her final destination was New York.
Immigration officials said the passengers will each go through the immigration process, which could take months to complete, depending on whether the person has been deported before or has a previous criminal history.