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The FBI is sounding the alarm on the increasing trend of cartel smugglers holding migrants for ransom amounts of up to $10,000 at Texas stash houses after sneaking them across the U.S.-Mexico border.
FBI El Paso has arrested 15 suspects since February of this year in kidnappings for ransom incidents, a spokesperson for FBI El Paso confirmed in an email to Fox News Digital Wednesday. In many cases, the family or friends of the victims are asked to pay between a few thousand to $10,000 to secure the safe release of the migrants, who are forced to live in “deplorable conditions in stash houses in El Paso.”
Many of the houses don’t have hot water, are filled with trash and lack adequate ventilation, while the migrants held there are often forced to drink water out of bathtubs, the spokesperson said.
“Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of these victims, not their immigration status,” Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey R. Downey said in a statement provided to Fox News Digital. “These victims endure so many frightening situations along their journey moving up towards the United States, only to find themselves being threatened with violence or become victims of violent acts.”
“We need family members to report these kidnapping for ransom incidents immediately to the nearest Consulate or Embassy or our office. Seconds matter in these incidents to ensure the safe rescue of their loved ones,” Downey said. “As a community, we should be concerned about the increase of these kidnappings and the threat they pose to the public safety of our community. We need the public’s help to see suspicious activity occurring in their neighborhood to report it to law enforcement and help protect a vulnerable population.”
In a recent bust on June 7, FBI El Paso Field Office’s Safe Streets and Violent Crime Task Force with the assistance of the U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector, El Paso Police Department, and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribal Police Department managed to rescue 23 undocumented immigrants who were being held against their will and threatened in a residential area in northeast El Paso.
The victims were identified as citizens of Guatemala, Ecuador, and the United Mexican States.
Samuel Nuvila Briones, 23, and Salvador Ramirez Montes, 54, were taken into federal custody and processed into the El Paso County Detention facility in connection to the operation.
In first announcing the rescue mission on July 8, FBI El Paso said they, along with U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) and task force partners, have rescued 88 victims from kidnapping for ransom incidents and “continue to see an increase in extortion crimes directly affecting undocumented immigrants who have paid human smugglers to bring them across the United States-Mexico border.”
Kidnapping extortion crimes exploit victims through threat and/or actual harm, being either physical or emotional, arrest, legal action, or other demands to force the victim into handing over money, the FBI said in a press release. Threats are aimed at the victim’s person or property or at their family and friends. Kidnapping for ransom is some of the most common extortion crimes investigated by the FBI El Paso Field Office.
The FBI explained that many undocumented immigrants are kept in stash houses located across El Paso. A stash house can be a house, shed, or any type of structure used to hide illegal activity from law enforcement. Stash houses are meant to blend in, so they can be found even in the middle of a city or gated community. Many of the non-residential structures used pose a direct threat to a person’s life in extreme heat and cold as they are not adequately ventilated, cooled, or heated.
The warning comes after in what was considered the deadliest human smuggling incident at the U.S. -Mexico border in recent history, 53 migrants died after being left in an abandoned and sweltering hot tractor trailer on the outskirts of San Antonio on June 27, just hours after the big rig was spotted on surveillance footage passing through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint.
Four men, including the driver and two Mexican nationals living in the U.S. illegally after overstaying their visas, were charged in connection to the incident.