SUNLAND PARK, New Mexico (Border Report) – The U.S. Border Patrol is partnering with federal and local police forces to stop the proliferation of migrant “stash houses” in Far West Texas and Southern New Mexico.

The Integrated Targeting Team (ITT) will combine intelligence gathering from Homeland Security Investigation, the Border Patrol, and police departments such as the one in Sunland Park, a city that’s become the epicenter for illegal immigration in the region.

“They’re working to basically crack down, dismantle, disrupt these transnational criminal organizations’ operations of moving people via stash houses. This is a top priority for our chief and our sector,” said Joel A. Freeland, a spokesman for the Border Patrol.

The agency in the past nine months has come across 210 migrant and drug stash houses in the El Paso area and taken into custody 2,000 foreign nationals being kept there. That’s a huge increase from the fiscal year 2020, when raids on 66 stash houses yielded 487 apprehensions.

A stash house can be a rental home, an apartment, a hotel room, a barn or even a tool shed. The last few locales raided by the Border Patrol include a home in Chaparral, N.M., and an apartment in Northeast El Paso, both housing more than 50 migrants.

“These are usually overcrowded, unsanitary facilities […] with no soap or running water in some cases, backed up or not working toilets,” Freeland said. “Especially in an apartment, there’s no ability to social distance.”

Agents often find much more than migrants at these stash houses. Freeland said drugs and cash are “also in the mix.”

Migrant surge fueling proliferation of stash houses

The Border Patrol is attributing the proliferation of these stash houses to the growing migrant surge.

According to preliminary U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures obtained by national news outlets, more than 210,000 unauthorized migrants were “encountered” or apprehended in July on the Southern border. This represents an increase from the 188,000 taken into custody in June and brings the total number of apprehensions in fiscal 2021 to 1.2 million.

“We are having so many single adults cross, that’s why we’re seeing so many more stash houses. This fiscal year today, we’ve had over 210 stash houses and over two thousand apprehensions from those encounters,” Freeland said.

Border towns like Sunland Park for the past year have dedicated local resources to tend to migrants injured after falling from the border wall and respond to citizens’ complaints of trespassing and unknown vehicles stopping in front of their homes to pick up newly arrived migrants for transport to a safe house.

On Wednesday, a Border Report/KTSM team witnessed three individuals in all-black clothing run to a parked SUV at the Sunland Park’s Motor Vehicle Department, which sped off as soon as the passengers got in – all of them in the back seat.

“We see this happen every day,” a Sunland Park police official told Border Report after watching the video. He said the department is receiving between 15 to 25 citizens’ complaints per day regarding migrant traffic.

The official, who declined to speak on camera, said police have no authority to detain or even stop migrants unless they commit an infraction such as trespassing or theft. He said police officers would only stop a moving vehicle if it’s obviously carrying more passengers than it is safe to do so, runs a red light or is speeding.

Once a moving vehicle is stopped, police have a right to ask its occupants to identify themselves and find out if any of them have warrants.

Previously, Sunland Park Police Chief Javier Guerra told Border Report he was concerned about the growing number of residents, particularly teenagers, who are getting recruited by gangs or other people to transport unauthorized migrants from Sunland Park to stash houses elsewhere.

Border Report earlier documented this trend during a review of pending migrant smuggling cases in El Paso federal court.

“Our advice to (U.S. citizens) is don’t break the law. Aiding, harboring and transporting (migrants) further into the U.S. is against the law. Don’t do it. We will prosecute you to the full extent of the law,” Freeland said.

The Border Patrol spokesman urged U.S. residents to call 911 whenever they see a lot of people going into a home or apartment and not coming out, or vehicles constantly dropping off people at a certain location. Emergency operators will route that information to the Border Patrol.