“Deplorable” is how a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) described conditions in which 67 people in the country illegally — including six unaccompanied teenagers — were kept at a so-called “stash house” in Dexter.
“As the deplorable conditions of this stash house demonstrate, transitional criminal organizations (TCOs) have no respect for human life,” said Jack Stanton, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso in a press release Thursday from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Human smuggling is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, and the individuals being smuggled are viewed as cargo by the criminal networks. HSI continues to investigate this organization and will hold them accountable for their illicit activities,” Stanton continued.
Officers with Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) — a division of ICE — and a special agent from HSI conducted an operation Monday at 7384 SE Main St. in Dexter.
Agents at the scene discovered 67 malnourished people from Guatemala and Ecuador kept in a 20 foot by 20 foot wooden shed connected to a fifth-wheel trailer, according to the release.
The people were kept in the shed with minimal food and water and no operational toilet, the release states.
Tomas Miguel Mateo, 38, of Guatemala, allegedly kept the people being held from leaving. He told them when they could eat, make telephone calls and use a restroom.
He was later taken into custody by agents, and told them he was forced by members of a smuggling group to house and feed the people in the trailer, but did not reveal any names.
Mateo made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces Wednesday where he faces charges of “harboring aliens” and “unlawful re-entry by a removed alien,” according to a press release Thursday from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico.
Mateo is currently in custody pending a detention hearing Tuesday, and if convicted, faces up to 20 years in prison, the release states.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.