U.S. targets the stash houses of human smugglers

Human smuggling victims outside a stash house in Laredo, Texas, on October 29. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
Human smuggling victims outside a stash house in Laredo, Texas, on October 29. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is cracking down on human smuggling by focusing its efforts on rescuing migrants from stash houses.

Stash houses are where human smugglers put migrants until they can relocate them either within countries or across borders.

“The criminal activity associated with stash houses creates a danger and a health risk for neighboring residents,” said Matthew Hudak, the chief patrol agent for CBP’s Laredo, Texas, sector, on October 30 after the closing of a stash house.

“By working together, we are able to better enforce the law and protect our community and communities throughout the country from COVID-19 and other dangerous threats,” Hudak said.

Human smugglers frequently abandon immigrants in stash houses for many days before moving them to a new location. With dozens of immigrants held in small houses without proper sanitation, hazardous living conditions often develop, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many times the smugglers extort additional money just to keep their human cargo in putrid, unsanitary conditions,” said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Kenneth Kroupa. And after the smugglers abandon them, the migrants “can’t escape because often they are locked in.”

Kroupa described scenes of dozens of migrants — weary after traveling thousands of miles — stuffed into small rooms without running water, electricity or access to food. Smugglers leave the migrants there without any contact with the outside world.

Filthy conditions inside stash house September 22, 2020 in San Elizario, Texas.

Between October 2019 and October 2020, CBP uncovered and shut down 397 stash houses. They were located along the U.S.-Mexico border from Texas to California, in towns like Yuma, Arizona, and Laredo.

CBP found over 100 of the houses in Laredo alone, and in Edinburg, Texas, CBP uncovered 141.

With the spread of COVID-19 across Mexico and the southern U.S., these stash houses become centers of illness, introducing the virus into groups of migrants and rendering the houses even deadlier.

The United States seeks to prevent migrants from ending up in stash houses by addressing root causes. In June, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo announced $252 million in additional U.S. foreign assistance for the Northern Triangle countries.

“This assistance will promote U.S. national security and further the president’s goal of decreasing illegal immigration to the United States,” he said.