Texas Panhandle Woman Allegedly Held 17 Migrants as Hostages in Home

Border Patrol agents find multiple migrants, including minors, packed in a human smuggling stash house. (U.S. Border Patrol/El Paso Sector)
File Photo: U.S. Border Patrol/El Paso Sector

A woman in Friona, Texas, faces federal charges for her role in a human smuggling stash house that held 17 migrants hostage. The migrants were forced to remain in the Texas Panhandle home until their debts to human smugglers were paid in full.

Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies arrested 30-year-old Manuela Magdelena Jimon Castro on July 29 after executing a search warrant that uncovered 17 migrants allegedly being held hostage, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas. Prosecutors accuse the woman of operating the stash house and holding migrants hostage until fees owed to human smugglers were paid.

A criminal complaint filed by a special agent with the FBI alleges that Castro and her husband operated a cartel-connected human smuggling stash house in the small Texas Panhandle town more than 400 miles from the U.S.-Mexico Border. The smuggling operation came to light following a tip from a migrant’s relative in Thousand Oaks, California. The California woman told police her sister was being held for ransom in Texas.

The woman added that her sister was being held in Mexico in a detention facility for a period of time before being moved into the U.S. by an “unknown Mexican cartel,” the complaint states. She said her sister had been held in at least two stash houses until a ransom of approximately $11,000 was paid to the smugglers. She added that her sister said she was told she could “pay off her debt by working at the home at a pay value of $1,200 per week.” The sister told the complainant that other migrants were also being held and were being abused and deprived of food and water.

A cell phone ping tagged the migrant woman’s location as a house in Friona. Thousand Oaks police officers contacted the FBI with the information regarding the complaint. FBI agents and Texas Department of Public Safety investigators responded to Friona and began surveillance of the alleged human smuggling stash house.

When a gold-colored vehicle was observed leaving the residence, Friona police officers conducted a traffic stop and detained the two people in the vehicle. Police identified one of the women as Castro and the second as a migrant who provided a statement to police.

The migrant (complaining witness #2) told police that Castro and her husband were holding migrants in the home. She added that the husband was out of town “picking up another load of illegal immigrants,” the complaint states.

Complaining witness #1, the sister of the California complainant, managed to escape from the home and told Friona police she had been traveling from Guatemala to Mexico to visit family. During her trip, an alleged cartel-connected gunman held her at gunpoint and forced her into a vehicle. Smugglers moved her through multiple stash houses in Mexico as they obtained information regarding family members in the United States “they could extort money from.”

The smugglers eventually moved her across the border into the U.S and transported her to multiple stash houses in Texas and New Mexico before ending up in Friona. The Guatemalan woman identified Castro as an operator of the stash house. Castro allegedly advised her she could not leave until a debt of approximately $12,000 was paid.

Texas DPS investigators and FBI agents obtained a search warrant. Prior to executing the warrant, Castro allegedly consented to a search of the residence. During the search, law enforcement officials found 17 additional migrants inside the house — including two children. The migrants attempted to hide in the attic, cupboards, and totes covered in blankets.

Each of the migrants told police they had been smuggled into the U.S. and had to pay money in order to be released. Several of the migrants alleged the Friona residence was the “last stop” prior to being released to their intended destination.

Prosecutors said the stash house contained very little furniture other than mattresses and blankets. The house was allegedly equipped to hold a “large number” of migrants spread out across the floor.

Court records reviewed by Breitbart Texas indicate Castro is being held without bond in the Randall County, Texas, jail pending state charges. She also faced a federal charge of alien harboring. If convicted of the federal felony, she could face up to five years in prison.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior news contributor for the Breitbart Texas-Border team. He is an original member of the Breitbart Texas team. Price is a regular panelist on Fox 26 Houston’s What’s Your Point? Sunday-morning talk show. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.

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