A Texas woman who federal authorities say held 17 immigrants hostage in her home has been charged in the case, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham on Thursday, August 4th.
The 30-year-old Friona woman is accused of holding people hostage, threatening to deprive them of food and water, and refusing to allow them to leave until they paid $12,000 or “worked off” the debt.
Federal authorities identified the woman as Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro, who was charged via criminal complaint with alien harboring.
She made her initial appearance Thursday before Magistrate Judge Lee Ann Reno.
If convicted, Castro faces a maximum of five years in federal prison.
Castro and a family member partnered with an illegal immigrant smuggling operation to keep the victims at the Friona home, federal authorities said in a news release.
Friona is in the South Plains region, about 70 miles southwest of Amarillo and about 100 miles northwest of Lubbock.
An investigation began when law enforcement in California received a tip from a woman who claimed her sister was being held for ransom in Texas.
The woman reported that her sister had traveled from Guatemala to Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the United States, then crossed the border at the behest of a Mexican cartel, that held her captive. She said her sister sent her a pin of a location in Friona before she escaped.
In an interview with law enforcement, the woman said that while in Mexico, she was forced into a car at gunpoint by people she believed to be members of a smuggling cartel.
After several months, they walked her across the southern border, then shuttled her from house to house in Texas and New Mexico, refusing to let her go until she paid off her debt.
She ended up at the Castro residence in Friona, where she was told she would be detained until she paid $12,000.
After receiving information on the alleged operation, authorities searched the Castro home, where they recovered 17 undocumented immigrants, including two children.
Most of the victims attempted to hide, concealing themselves in the attic, in cupboards, or inside totes covered in blankets., authorities said.
Agents noted that the home contained very little furniture, save mattresses and blankets for a large number of people spread across the floor.
Mexico Daily Post