EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A woman who allegedly supervised a home where 16 foreign nationals were kept with minimal food and water for more than a week has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to transport unauthorized migrants from Southern New Mexico to the interior of the United States.

By entering her plea in the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of New Mexico, Jacqueline Torres is requesting leniency from the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the offense, court records show.

Torres was arrested after members of the Intelligence Unit of the U.S. Border Patrol received information about several unauthorized migrants staying in a single room in a Las Cruces, New Mexico, motel. Border agents knocked on the door on the morning of Sept. 7 and interviewed nine foreign nationals who admitted to being in the county illegally.

Further questioning revealed a total of 16 migrants had been staying in a house in Chaparral, New Mexico, since Aug. 29 until being transported to the motel on Sept. 7 by a woman driving a red Lincoln SUV.

One material witness told investigators she and other migrants were threatened and verbally abused at the stash house, and that a woman who “carried a knife and possibly a gun” prevented her and the other foreign nationals from bathing and only provided minimal food and water, court records show. The witness later identified the woman as defendant Torres, records show.

Federal officials arrested Torres shortly after border agents took the migrants into custody. She entered her plea last week in a Las Cruces federal courtroom. Torres admitted to working with others to transport the migrants for monetary gain, court records show.

In addition, from Aug. 29, 2023, to Sept. 7, 2023, “I operated a stash house where I concealed and harbored 16 illegal aliens who had unlawfully come into the United States in an effort to facilitate their continued unlawful presence in the United States,” Torres said in her plea agreement. “… For my part in the conspiracy, I expected to be paid. I knew what I was doing was illegal, but I did it anyway.”

A formal sentencing date is pending.

U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Scott Good, whose area of responsibility includes New Mexico, said his agents discovered 280 “stash houses” and apprehended 3,640 unauthorized migrants in fiscal year 2023. Border agents say it is common for the migrants to be placed by smugglers in overcrowded rooms with minimal hygiene or food, and to otherwise be treated as a commodity.