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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE rescues 3 children being held hostage by human smugglers

PHOENIX - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents Tuesday rescued three Salvadoran children being held by suspected human smugglers in the Phoenix area.

Authorities believe the children's Salvadoran parents, who live in Washington, D.C., paid $13,000 to have the children smuggled into the United States. After the children arrived in Phoenix in late April, the smugglers refused to release them unless the parents paid an additional $6,500. Once the additional fee was paid, the smugglers then demanded another $7,000. At that point, the parents became concerned for their children's welfare and alerted authorities.

"This is yet another example of the ruthlessness and greed of those involved in the human smuggling trade," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. "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."

After receiving the initial case information Monday, ICE investigators worked round-the-clock to locate the children. Tuesday morning, as a result of those efforts, the youths, ranging in age from 11 to 15, were left at a local business in west Phoenix. There, agents retrieved the children, who were frightened, but appeared to be in good health.

ICE is now coordinating with its Office of Investigations and the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C., to reunite the children with their parents. The investigation into the smuggling scheme is continuing. ICE officials advise that because of the ongoing nature of the case, no further details can be released at this time.