Over 100 stash houses that kept migrants in ‘deplorable’ conditions dismantled in Rio Grande Valley

Border Crime

'It could be in anyone's neighborhood'

MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — As the temperature rose to 105 degrees on Tuesday afternoon in deep South Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement entered a suspected stash house and found 15 undocumented migrants inside, an agency spokesman told Border Report.

Border Patrol and Hidalgo County Constables officers working Homeland Security Investigators arrested 15 migrants on Sept. 1, 2020, at a “stash house” operated in Mission, Texas, an agency official said. (Courtesy Photo).

The migrants were from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, most of whom were shirtless men. Border agents from the Rio Grande Valley Sector lined them up outside the single-family home, believed to be operated by human traffickers in the border town of Mission. Agents say when they dismantle stash houses, the migrants are frequently living in close quarters, often sleeping on the floor with little food or water and usually no air conditioning.

“Typically, when agents discover stash houses the aliens are crammed in pretty deplorable conditions. There’s no bedding. There’s limited supplies, no air conditioning, limited food and water, and the aliens could be in those conditions for days or weeks sometimes,” said Dustin Araujo, assistant chief patrol agent for the RGV Sector.

Speaking with Border Report on Wednesday from the sector headquarters in Edinburg, Texas, Araujo said agents have found migrants of all ages — ranging from children to the elderly, men and women — and sometimes they are the victims of abuse and sexual assaults.

“The smugglers do not care about the people they are housing. They’re not going to pay extra money to make it any type of comfort at all,” Araujo said. “The smugglers have them controlled in that environment until they’re ready to move them along.”

Dustin Araujo, assistant chief patrol agent and a spokesman for the RGV Sector is seen Sept. 2, 2020, at the sector headquarters in Edinburg, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Despite the triple-digit heat, Araujo said human traffickers, called coyotes by the migrants who hire them, will continue to relocate them from stash house to stash house throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Agents have dismantled locations from upscale neighborhoods to dilapidated ranch houses and apartments from Rio Grande City in Starr County to Brownsville, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. So far this year, the sector has taken down over 100 stash houses, Araujo said.

“This year alone we’ve disrupted more than 100 stash houses and they range from mobile homes to apartment buildings to residences in neighborhoods that vary across the Valley. They could be in a nice neighborhood or desolate ranch land areas, the stash houses are prevalent throughout the county,” he said. “It’s all over the Valley. It’s wherever they see an opportunity to profit and expand their criminal enterprise in the region then they’ll set up their operations. It could be in anyone’s neighborhood.”

Above, Border Patrol agents working in conjunction with the Hidalgo County Constable’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations teams, found 16 migrants who were being held inside an aging yellow and white striped trailer Aug. 27, 2020, in the town of Mission. (Courtesy U.S. Border Patrol.)

On Aug. 27, Border Patrol agents working in conjunction with the Hidalgo County Constable’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations teams, found 16 migrants who were being held inside an aging yellow and white striped, also in the town of Mission.

That same day, at a home in the South Texas city of Laredo, Border Patrol agents from the Laredo Sector apprehended 20 migrants, none of whom was wearing personal protective equipment to ward against coronavirus, the agency said. The group apparently was discovered after someone was seen entering the property through a hole in the fence.

Laredo Sector Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak said that from Aug. 17-27, border agents in his sector apprehended 229 migrants in 12 stash houses throughout Laredo. He said coming upon large groups is especially threatening to agents and public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the number of illegal aliens testing positive for COVID-19 increases, these stash houses represent an increasingly significant threat to our agents, to public health, and to our health care system and our health care professionals,” Hudak said.

A stash house where 20 migrants were found in Laredo, Texas, on Aug. 27, 2020. (Courtesy Photo)

Araujo said migrants are kept in various stash houses anywhere from hours to weeks as smugglers make preparations to move the group north into the interior and past the Border Patrol checkpoints. Often, this includes stashing the groups in locked tractor-trailers with no air conditioning and amidst cargo and in the dark.

“The smugglers don’t have any regard for their well being. They won’t hesitate to try to move them around the checkpoints through the ranch lands through tractor-trailers or in the trunks of vehicles. They’ll try to get them through. For them, it’s just money. They’re driven by money and they don’t have any regard for the safety of the people they’re transporting,” he said.

They’re driven by money and they don’t have any regard for the safety of the people they’re transporting.”

Dustin Araujo, Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector

During a traffic stop on Aug. 19 in Mission, agents discovered 15 migrants who were stored in a commercial box truck.

Undocumented migrants were arrested Aug. 19 after a commercial truck was stopped in Mission, Texas. (Courtesy Photo)

“With COVID going on, having large numbers of people like that in close quarters poses an added risk to the migrants in those stash houses and it’s another reason why we need to ensure that they are dismantled and we stop those operations now more than ever,” Araujo said.

Tips leading to stash houses often come from neighbors who call 911 when they realize something isn’t right. Araujo says signs to look for include:

  • Cars coming in and out all hours of the night;
  • Groceries in a home you know doesn’t have that many people
  • People milling around you don’t know.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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