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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE helps rescue 4-year-old girl kidnapped by human smugglers

SANTA ANA, Calif. - Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Orange County Sheriff's deputies rescued a 4-year-old girl from a suspected human smuggler yesterday.

Authorities believe the child's Mexican national mother arranged to have her U.S. citizen daughter smuggled separately into the United States while the mother entered the country illegally using a different route. Once the two arrived in the United States, the human smuggler refused to return the child to the mother, demanding more money from the woman.

Emanuel De La Costa-Valdiva, 32, was arrested by deputies after he was found with the child. The Mexican national has been charged with human trafficking, kidnapping and extortion and is currently at the Orange County Jail awaiting his initial appearance in court.

ICE and the Orange County Sheriff's Department were alerted to the hostage situation by the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, which brings together federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to dismantle human trafficking organizations and rescue their victims.

"It is not unusual for parents to arrange for their young children to be smuggled separately while they attempt to enter the United States through other methods," said Joseph Macias, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Orange County. "Parents who contract with human smugglers should remember they are delivering their children into the hands of criminals, criminals who are often all too willing to put a child's welfare at stake for their own personal gain."

The mother and child were reunited last night. ICE is arranging for the mother to stay in the United States to serve as a witness in the prosecution of La Costa.