Stash Houses Growing on the Border
Sgt. Rolando Garcia sat in a surveillance van earlier this month, staking out a white wooden house surrounded by sprawling cactus in this city of 35,000 residents near the U.S.-Mexico border.
He wasn’t looking for signs of drugs or weapons, but for evidence that it was a stash house packed with illegal immigrants, the hottest illicit commodity for smugglers on the Texas border.
Human smuggling is nothing new along the U.S.-Mexico boundary, but federal, state and local officials report a rise in Texas in recent months, as thousands of Central Americans sneak into the country—including many unaccompanied children. The migrants are overwhelming authorities along the Rio Grande.
The criminal networks being uncovered in Texas involve large groups of immigrants—and increasingly brazen smugglers. They often hold migrants hostage and threaten them with brutality if their friends or relatives don’t produce extra money to release them, authorities said. Sometime, they kidnap migrants from rival smuggling gangs.
Earlier this month, San Juan police found 43 people trapped inside one suspected stash house. The migrants claimed that their captors threatened to electrocute them if they tried to escape, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.