Rescued Immigrants claim kidnapping, rape, torture
The border is a dangerous place for all sides of the triangle, smugglers, the smuggled and law enforcement. It seems like the real fix has to be made in Mexico (and further south).
Dec. 2, 2008
EDINBURG — Mario Olivares Cifuentes thought he understood the risks of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tales of migrants drowning in the Rio Grande or succumbing to the oppressive South Texas sun spread frequently among those hoping to make the trek.
But for Olivares, a Guatemalan migrant, the real danger emerged only after passing those natural perils.
For almost a day, he and 20 of his countrymen were allegedly kidnapped, tortured, raped and held for ransom in a stash house east of Edinburg before federal agents rescued them last week.
Their purported tormentors — a group of Mexican nationals believed to have abducted the immigrants from another smuggling organization — are set to appear before a federal judge today. (Wednesday)
"These are just some of the many risks that illegal immigrants face when crossing illegally," said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, whose office has since joined the investigation.
U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered the 21 Guatemalan nationals on Nov. 25 packed in a cramped mobile home near the intersection of Tower and Texas roads. But as they interviewed the group of men and women a more harrowing picture of the conditions they had lived through emerged.
"All of the aliens claimed they had been constantly terrorized by their captors," said Guadalupe Sanchez, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an affidavit filed in the case.
According to Sanchez' affidavit, the migrants were guided to an Hidalgo stash house Nov. 24 after crossing the Rio Grande with a group of coyotes.
But within an hour of their arrival, five armed men burst into the building and abducted them. The men guided the Guatemalans to another location, where they reportedly turned their weapons on their victims.
The men threatened the immigrants' lives if they could not secure ransoms from family members in the United States and abroad, the Guatemalans later told agents.
Olivares reported being tied up overnight and beaten by the men, according to court filings. Three other women said they were taken into back rooms and raped by their captors.
ICE agents arrested the five purported kidnappers soon after the stash house raid.
Andres Perez Moshan, 26; Humberto Alvarez Cheo, 20; Roberto Salinas Martinez, 23; and Euclides Moreno Dominguez, 26; all face federal human smuggling charges. The fifth - a 16-year-old juvenile - is being held as a witness in the case but has not been charged with a crime.
Two of the men - Perez and Moreno - will also face state charges of aggravated sexual assault for alleged attacks on the woman.
It was not clear Tuesday whether any of the suspects had retained or had attorneys appointed for them.
If convicted on all charges, the men could face 10 years in federal prison. Those charged with rape also face the possibility of a life sentence in a state facility.
Fifteen of their alleged victims remain in ICE custody pending their return to their home country. Six others - including the three purported rape victims — are being held in the United States to testify in the ongoing criminal case.
"Crimes perpetrated on illegal immigrants like this happen much more frequently than people realize," the sheriff said. "Most of the time, they go unreported."
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