EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrants are increasingly falling prey to kidnapping, extortion, and physical and emotional abuse in U.S. territory, as local gangs raid each other’s stash houses to force newly arrived foreign nationals to call relatives here or in their home countries so they can send money to their new captors, federal officials say.
“The FBI continues to see a shift of the extortion calls being directed towards undocumented migrants who have paid human smugglers to bring them across the border and toward their family members in the U.S.,” the FBI said in a statement. “They are quickly trapped in a very frightening nightmare as other human smuggling organizations are kidnapping them from the original smugglers’ stash houses and begin the process of extorting family members for their release.”
Such cases are being reported in the FBI El Paso Field Office area of responsibility. The “nightmare” refers to the tactics used by individuals on the U.S. side of the border associated with transnational criminal organizations. Such individuals are exploiting the migrants through threats of violence or actual physical and emotional harm. In some cases, the captors may represent themselves to the migrants or their relatives as U.S. immigration agents and threaten to deport everyone involved unless they get money, the FBI said.
“Many of the victims don’t report the incident because of fear they will be deported due to their immigration status,” the statement said. “FBI-El Paso wants to stress the focus of investigations is not the person’s immigration status, but instead the extortion crime.”
Federal officials said the “stealing” of migrants from Human Smuggling Organization 1 by Human Smuggling Organization 2 in the El Paso area usually occurs without violence. A gang may have learned where another group is operating a migrant stash house, stakes out the residence, apartment or mobile home, then storms in when the keepers go out. The migrants are told to get into a vehicle or vehicles and moved to another location, where HSO 2 demands money from them or their relatives.
“HSO 1 gets the money from bringing the people over the border and now HSO 2 goes to the stash houses, kidnaps those individuals and initiate the kidnapping for ransom,” an official said.
The FBI and other federal agencies decided to bring the issue to public light because they’re concerned about the trend of migrant exploitation, and virtual and actual kidnappings in general. They are hoping to raise awareness so community members alert authorities when they see suspicious activity that may result in harm against migrants or anyone else.
The latest migrant kidnapping case broke this week with the Thursday rescue of 24 undocumented immigrants from an undisclosed location in El Paso. The FBI’s Violent Crime Task force with the assistance of the U.S. Border Patrol rescued 24 individuals who had paid smugglers to bring them into the United States but were still being held against their will pending a ransom.
“As a community, we should be concerned about the increase of these kidnappings and the threat they pose to the public safety of our city,” said Jeffrey R. Downey, special agent in charge of the FBI El Paso Field Office. “We need the help of the entire community to see suspicious activity occurring in our neighborhoods. We are asking community members to help eradicate this violent crime from existing in our city.”
El Paso Border Patrol Chief Agent Gloria I. Chavez is also concerned about the trend.
“Extortion and holding migrants against their will are common and nefarious practices done by human smugglers that prove a complete disregard for human lives,” Chavez said. “We are committed to jointly targeting these transnational criminal organizations.”
Details of this week’s rescue were scarce on Friday, as the investigation was ongoing.