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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE rescues dozens from LA-area drop house

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Acting on a tip from a concerned family member, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed a federal search warrant at a home here Tuesday afternoon and found 37 smuggled aliens from six countries jammed inside a tiny bedroom where some claim they had been held for weeks. ICE HSI agents took an additional seven aliens linked to the same smuggling scheme into custody earlier in the day as they were being transported to other destinations in the Los Angeles area.

The discovery of the human smuggling "drop house" came after the Los Angeles Police Department alerted ICE HSI they had been contacted by an individual whose relative was being held by human smugglers at a residence somewhere in the Riverside area. The caller told police the smugglers had threatened to kill his relative because the family had been unable to come up an additional payment demanded for his release. Following two days of intensive investigation, including the deployment of an infra-red equipped helicopter, ICE HSI agents narrowed down the location and obtained a search warrant for the residence at 1879 Martin Luther King Blvd.

Once inside, investigators found the smuggled aliens crowded in a bedroom at the rear of the residence. The windows were boarded up and the room's only door locked from the outside. As a further deterrent against escape, all of the aliens had been stripped of their shoes. Some told investigators they had gone several days without food. The investigation into the smuggling scheme is ongoing.

"This incident shows yet again the ruthlessness and brutality of the smuggling trade," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE Office of HSI in Los Angeles. "While the volume of human smuggling activity in the Los Angeles area has declined in recent times due to stepped up enforcement and economic factors, the aggressiveness and violence exhibited by the smuggling organizations seems to be on the rise. Extortion, torture and physical violence are now commonplace in these cases."

The 44 smuggled aliens are from six countries: Guatemala (16); El Salvador (16); Honduras (7), Mexico (2); Ecuador (2); and the Dominican Republic (1). The group includes 34 adult men, four adult women and six juveniles. The smuggled aliens remain in ICE custody at this time pending further review of their cases.

The discovery of the drop house in Riverside comes just two weeks after ICE HSI agents found 35 smuggled aliens from Central and South America in a residence in Baldwin Park in Los Angeles.