A Texas woman faces federal charges after allegedly holding 17 undocumented immigrants hostage. According to a statement from the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, the 30-year-old made his first appearance before a judge on Thursday. Officials charged Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro with “hosting aliens” through a criminal complaint. Manuela is accused of collaborating with several organizations to hold immigrants hostage until they pay thousands of dollars for their freedom.
The complaint says that Manuela, a family member, and an “illegal immigrant smuggling operation” worked together to keep the immigrants at Manuela’s home. In addition to the hostages, Manuela is said to have threatened them with no food or water. To be released, Manuela and her partners required each immigrant to pay $11,000 to $12,000 in advance or settle the debt.
How the authorities discovered the illegal hostage scheme for immigrants
The police were hooked on this scheme by law enforcement in California. A woman contacted police with a tip that someone was holding her sister for ransom in Texas. The unidentified woman said her sister came from Guatemala to Mexico – in hopes of finding asylum in the United States. Instead, undocumented immigrants crossed the Mexico-U.S. border on the orders and into custody of a Mexican gang. Upon arriving in Friona, Texas, an undocumented immigrant woman managed to escape. Before fleeing, she sent her sister a pin code about her location.
Law enforcement conducted an interview with the immigrant woman. She revealed that someone forced her into a car with a gun in Mexico. Months later, the hypothetical smuggling group brought her across the southern border and then moved her from house to house in New Mexico and Texas. Her kidnappers refused to let her go and she ended up going to Manuela’s house. Under Manuela’s watch, the woman was told she couldn’t leave without coughing up $12,000.
Police took action following their interview with the woman and another individual detained at the residence. After searching the house, police found at least 17 undocumented immigrants. Two of those found were two young children, according to the statement. Manuela’s home did not have much furniture, but police found mattresses and blankets spread across the floor. When the police stormed the residence, most of the detained immigrants tried to hide in lofts, lockers and covered with blankets.
Detailed scheme of undocumented individual recovered to police
After the search, the police conducted interviews with undocumented people. In addition to admitting illegal entry, smuggling into the US, they also told about the people running the program. Immigrants said the smugglers took away their cell phones but allowed several people to contact them to get their “entry fee” money. Some people actually believe they have to pay a fee to leave Friona, according to the statement.
If Manuela is convicted of the “alien harboring” charge, she will face up to five years in prison. It is unclear how many additional immigrants Manuela and connected entities have held hostage and charged for their freedom.
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