A Friona woman accused of holding 17 unlawful migrants hostage in her home is charged with a federal crime. As announced by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas on August 4, Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro was charged with “alien harboring.”
According to the criminal complaint, 30-year-old Castro and a family member partnered with an unlawful migrant smuggling operation to hold undocumented individuals hostage. They then demanded that the hostages pay $11,000 to $12,000 each or work off the debt.
The investigation began with a woman held for ransom in West Texas. Her sister called California law enforcement and reported that the victim had attempted to seek asylum in the United States. Having traveled from Guatemala to Mexico, the victim had been captured by people she believed were members of a Mexican cartel who made her cross the border.
In an interview, the woman told law enforcement that the suspected Mexican cartel members forced her into a car at gunpoint in Mexico. After several months, they walked her across the southern border into the U.S. They then allegedly shuttled her between houses in Texas and New Mexico and refused to let her go until she paid off her debt.
The woman said she was taken to the Castro residence at some point and told she would have to pay $12,000 before she could be released. She was able to escape after sending her sister a pin of the house location.
Law enforcement searched the Castro home after they spoke with the woman and another person who had previously been detained at the house. They found 17 unlawful migrants, two of whom were minor children.
Agents said that the house had very little furniture in it. All they saw were mattresses and blankets for a large number of people. They added that most of the people held hostage in the home had been trying to hide in cupboards, in the attic, or inside totes covered in blankets.
The recovered hostages told law enforcement they had entered the country unlawfully with smugglers. They explained that the smugglers confiscated their cell phones and only occasionally allowed them to contact their family members to get money to pay their “entrance fees.”
If Castro is convicted of the crime, she faces up to five years in prison. The family member’s identity is unknown, and it is unclear whether they also face criminal charges.
While the investigation started with law enforcement in California, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas and Los Angeles field offices collaborated with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Thousand Oaks Police Department in California, and the Friona Police Department to break the case.