Woman Charged After Holding 17 Immigrants Hostage For Ransom

A Texas woman faces a federal charge after allegedly holding 17 undocumented immigrants hostage. According to a statement from the US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, the 30-year-old made an initial appearance before a judge on Thursday. Officials charged Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro with “alien harboring” via criminal complaint. Manuela allegedly partnered with several entities to hold the immigrants hostage until they paid thousands of dollars for their freedom.

The complaint says Manuela, a family member, and an “illegal immigrant smuggling operation” worked together to keep the immigrants in Manuela’s home. In addition to the hostage component, Manuela also allegedly threatened them with no food or water. To be freed, Manuela and her partners demanded that each immigrant pay between $11,000 and $12,000 upfront or work off the debt.

How Authorities Discovered The Unlawful Hostage Immigrants Scheme

Police were clued in on the scheme by law enforcement in California. A woman contacted the police with a tip that someone was holding her sister for ransom in Texas. The unidentified woman said her sister traveled to Mexico from Guatemala–hoping to find asylum in the United States. Instead, the undocumented immigrant crossed the Mexico-US border under the orders and captivity of a Mexican cartel. Once in Friona, Texas, the undocumented immigrant woman managed to escape. Before fleeing, she sent her sister a pin of her location.

Law enforcement conducted an interview with the immigrant woman. She revealed that someone forced her into a car at gunpoint in Mexico. Months later, the assumed smuggling cartel walked here across the southern border and then moved here from house to house in New Mexico and Texas. Her kidnappers refused to let her go and eventually she ended up in Manuela’s house. Under Manuela’s watch, the woman was told she couldn’t leave without coughing up $12,000.

Police took action after their interview with the woman and another individual who was held captive at the residence. After searching the home, police found at least 17 undocumented immigrants. Two of the people found were two minor children, according to the statement. Manuela’s home did not have much furniture, but police found mattresses and blankets spread across the floor. When the police entered the residence, most of the captive immigrants attempted to hide in the attic, cupboards, and totes covered with blankets.

Recovered Undocumented Individuals Detailed Scheme To Police

After the search, the police conducted interviews with the undocumented persons. In addition to admitting their illegal, smuggled entry to the US, they told of the people running the show. The immigrants said the smugglers took away their cell phones but allowed some contact to obtain their “entrance fee” coins. A few truly believed they had to pay the fee in order to leave Friona, per the statement.

If Manuela is convicted on the “alien harboring” charge, she faces up to five years in prison. It’s unclear how many additional immigrants Manuela and the connected entities have taken hostage and charged for their freedom.

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