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Police uncover 20 illegals in van

BUFORD - Gwinnett police Monday intercepted 20 illegal immigrants who were crammed in a van bound for New York - the largest bust of its kind made by local authorities.

Police found the men, women and children packed between and under the seats of a 2001 Chevrolet van with a Texas license plate traveling on Interstate 85. Their ages range from 6 to 47 years old, police said.

All 20 people admitted to being in the United States illegally after entering the country less than three weeks ago, police said.

Their circumstances appeared meager, if not claustrophobic.

"There was no luggage in the vehicle," said Gwinnett police Cpl. Illana Spellman. "The only possessions the occupants had was what they were wearing."

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents took the suspects into custody.

Spellman said the driver, Lazaro Ayala, 23, could face federal prosecution. He told police he was driving the van from Dallas to New York.

The bust started with a routine traffic stop made by Gwinnett police's Interdiction Unit.

An officer stopped the van for a window-tint violation Monday afternoon on northbound I-85 at Buford Drive. Ayala then offered the officer another person's Arizona driver's license, which had been suspended, Spellman said.

Spellman couldn't verify that the foreigners were part of a human-smuggling ring.

An ICE official did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The Interdiction Unit - an eight-member team launched in January to thwart drug traffic on Gwinnett roadways - made a similar bust Feb. 18 in the same area.

At that time, police found 10 illegal immigrants in a Dodge pickup truck with excessively tinted windows and Arizona plates. Spellman said police have found no evidence to link the two incidents.

"We have only begun to see these type of stops since the Interdiction Unit began focusing law enforcement measures on the interstate," Spellman said.

Spellman added that Monday's bust has yielded "the highest number of illegal immigrants discovered from one traffic stop so far."