A lack of personnel at border checkpoints in southern New Mexico will likely mean the discovery of more people smuggled into the country illegally, Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington said Sunday.
Personnel from U.S. Customs and Border Protection were shifted away from checkpoints at communities near the southern border to assist with humanitarian needs of asylum seekers.
“Since the checkpoints have been closed down and no one is monitoring who is coming in, I have no doubt that there are more of these in Chaves County,” Herrington said.
The comments come after a “stash house” where seven Guatemalan males — including two teenagers — were kept was discovered by Chaves County deputies Friday. Herrington said it appears the house discovered Friday on Concord Road is part of a larger human trafficking organization.
Herrington said his office received an anonymous tip at 6:30 p.m. Friday about a possible stash house used for human trafficking located on Concord Road. He added that he and deputies went to the property and eventually located the seven men in the main house.
The woman who owned the property and her mother were also home at the time. The seven men allegedly slept in a small shed behind the main house on the property, but were found inside the main house when deputies arrived.
Deputies found a pile of shoes outside the main house along with a pile of clothing. None of the Guatemalans were wearing shoes and several were not wearing shirts when deputies arrived.
Herrington said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was contacted about the finding. The Guatemalans were placed in the custody of ICE.
The property owner and her mother were not arrested, but Herrington said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now investigating the situation and they will likely press charges.
Spokespersons for ICE and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico said Monday that they would not comment about ongoing investigations.
Last February, a similar shelter was discovered at 7384 Southeast Main Street in Dexter during an operation conducted by officers with Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) — a division of ICE — and a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
In all, 67 malnourished people from Guatemala and Ecuador, including six unaccompanied teenagers, were found stuffed into a 20 by 20 foot shed on wheels at that location, with minimal food, water and no operational toilet. One HSI agent in March described the conditions as “deplorable.”
Tomas Miguel Mateo, 38, of Guatemala, was arrested at the scene and charged with “harboring aliens” and “unlawful re-entry by a removed alien.” Mateo at the time told agents that he was forced by members of a smuggling group to house and feed the people in the trailer, but did not reveal any names to agents.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.