- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2019

Authorities in Texas busted a massive illegal immigrant stash house last week, rescuing 73 migrants from smugglers who allegedly kicked them, used a stun gun on them and carried a pistol to “terrorize” them.

One of the migrants managed to escape and flagged down a state police trooper, who alerted the Border Patrol.

They staged a rescue with the National Guard, local sheriff’s deputies and state police, raiding the ranch and finding dozens of illegal immigrants on the property in El Sauz, Texas.

Agents arrested three people they said ran the operations — all of them familiar to the Border Patrol as known smugglers — but they all invoked their rights to remain silent, and refused to talk.

But a handful of the illegal immigrants rescued from the stash house told their stories to agents, describing the violence and intimidation tactics the stash house operators used.

Victor Manuel Barahona-Mejia, a Salvadoran, said he was being charged $11,000 to be smuggled into the U.S., and had been held for about 15 days at the ranch.

He told agents one of the smugglers carried a Taser, made a habit of kicking migrants, and also had a gun he used to threaten them.

It got so bad that he escaped and flagged down the trooper, ending his attempt to sneak into the U.S. but helping rescue the other illegal immigrants.

Others held at the stash house backed up his account. Domingo Bernane Ajpop-Tzaj, a Guatemalan who’d paid 110,000 Quetzals to be smuggled — equivalent to about $14,000 — said he saw one of the stash house operators hold the pistol to another migrant’s head.

Heriberto Montor-Villasenor, a Mexican who was paying $7,000 to be smuggled, told agents he was one of those who’d been threatened with being shot by Juan Carlos Berrera, the smuggler identified as carrying the pistol.

The court documents don’t say why the migrants were being held in this instance, but smugglers will often keep them at stash houses to extort more cash from their families.

Other times they’re awaiting a clear window to move the migrants from the border area north.

A network of Border Patrol checkpoints on highways leading away from the Texas-Mexico boundary acts as a secondary border, and smugglers pay drivers and foot guides thousands of dollars to find ways to get the migrants through or around the checkpoints undetected.

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