The Houston Chronicle reports that more than 100 people were found in a "stash house" in the city this week. A stash house is a holding point for illegal immigrants who cross the border into the United States while they await further steps, perhaps meeting up with a relative or getting transportation to wherever they are heading next.
The Houston Police were tipped off to illegal activity in the home by a man who called to tell them that a "coyote" - someone in the business of illegally transporting people across the border for money - was holding relatives of his, asking for more money before letting them go.
Sometimes, coyote operations will collect money from people as payment for getting them across the border, then extort further money from relatives once they are across.
Police went to the address they were given, but did not observe anything untoward happening at the house from the outside. In fact, things looked very quiet, and the house was locked from the outside. But then they saw two men pull away from the driveway. They pulled the men over down the street in a "routine traffic stop", and found guns and papers indicating illegal activity in the car. With that as their probable cause, police returned to the house and entered.
What they found inside was shocking. Over 100 people were crammed into a house less than 1500 square feet in size. The windows were boarded up from the inside. There was only one toilet and no hot water. All the men in the group had been stripped of their shoes and pants, left only with underwear, to keep them from fleeing. The smell of unbathed bodies was almost overwhelming.
“It was just filth, very squalid-like conditions inside. Trash bags with clothing piled as high as you can see,” a Houston Police spokesman said. “They were very surprised at the numbers of people inside. Some were just sitting on top of one another because there was just no room.”
Police called out the name of the woman they had originally been notified about. She came forward from the throng of people, along with two children traveling with her.
As police began to usher people outside in to the fresh air and sunlight, they heard tales of people being stuck in the house for days, even weeks.
The Washington Post reports that Houston has seen large stash house operations before. It is a handy crossroads for across-the-border traffic, since it is only seven hours from Mexico.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Greg Palmore said, "Houston is significant for the highway corridors that make up Houston, I-45 and I-10. With those two traffic corridors you can pan out anywhere in the United States. And it’s very easy to assimilate into the communities here.”
Five men have been arrested in connection with the case, including the two stopped in the car initially, as well as three more who tried to flee the scene on foot. Police also found two chicken coops on the property with hundreds of chickens that they suspect were used in a cock-fighting operation.
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