Houston a hub for human trafficking

February 3, 2010 4:02:05 PM PST
There is new information about a series of immigration raids Tuesday in Houston. We've learned agents arrested dozens of people during the raids, some of them for holding immigrants hostage and moving them for cash. As we first told you Tuesday, authorities targeted businesses across the city. It was part of a three month long investigation.

Houston is a hub for human trafficking. In a massive ICE raid, 14 Houston businesses were shut down for allegedly trafficking hundreds of undocumented immigrants for cash. Eighty-one immigrants along with 32 vehicles, 18 weapons and stashes of cash were uncovered Tuesday as part of a three-month investigation called Operation Night Moves. A total of 209 undocumented immigrants have been discovered.

"They move at night to avoid detection. They move at night often with between 10 and 20 aliens jammed in SUVs or in vans," said Edward Gallager III, Dept. of Justice Deputy Chief Criminal Division.

Investigators said 23 owner-operators were caught using fake transportation businesses, better known as "camionetas" as their cover, allegedly paid by smugglers to take undocumented immigrants in vans from Houston to cities all over the country.

"The companies would pay commissions to smugglers to bring in smuggled aliens to them. They would also buy and trade passengers on commission between each other," said John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Homeland security for ICE.

The owners allegedly made more than $650 per person while holding them against their will in so-called stash houses. The conditions are described as prison-like.

"The passengers were controlled by armed guards, pit bulls, security cameras and high fences," said Morton.

Two alleged owner-operators, Francisco Jesus Campos and Carlos Bonage, are still at-large. The others in federal custody are charged with conspiracy to transport aliens, a crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.