SAN DIEGO — Eighteen people have been charged with trying to smuggle 156 illegal Chinese immigrants into the United States.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Alberto Arevalo said the defendants, indicted by a federal grand jury Monday, entered not guilty pleas in U.S. District Court.
The ship carrying the immigrants, the Chih Yung, was stopped off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, by the U.S. Coast Guard Aug. 27 and detained offshore until Friday, when it was escorted into the San Diego Naval Station.
The immigrants are being held in detention centers while the Immigration and Naturalization Service decides whether they qualify for political asylum.
INS officials said all but three of the defendants were from China. Two are from Taiwan, and the nationality of the third is unclear, they said.
If found guilty, the defendants could be sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years and fines of as much as $250,000.