In what's being called one of the largest such operations in five years, local police and federal immigration authorities found 100 foreign nationals during a raid on a location in south Houston, suspected to be used by human traffickers to house illegal immigrants.
A total of 109 people, including 17 children, were reportedly rescued and taken into custody Wednesday on suspicion of illegally entering the U.S. Five people were also reportedly arrested on suspicion of running the smuggling ring.
"No one looked to be seriously injured inside the home. They were very hungry and thirsty, and our officers gave them things to eat and provided water. They said they were tired and hungry," police spokesperson John Cannon reportedly said.
Greg Palmore, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reportedly described the operation as the region’s largest in at least five years and one of the largest groups discovered in a raid to have illegally entered the country.
"It's safe to assume it's an alleged smuggling investigation, but the extent hasn't been ascertained," Palmore told Reuters.
Guns and “paper indicating illegal activity” were found in the car of two suspects who attempted to drive away from the house Wednesday morning while the three other suspects were detained as they tried to escape.
Palmore revealed to media that the group was held in a 2,200 square-foot building with one bathroom, no water and little food. Many of the people came from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and were between the ages of 5 to 47, officials reportedly said.
According to Palmore, one woman told authorities that she had been stuck in the house for more than 15 days, while many others said they had been there since the weekend. A pregnant woman was hospitalized as she felt ill, while another individual was also rushed to a hospital for an unknown condition.
Authorities got a lead in the case Tuesday night when police were contacted by a family member of a 24-year-old woman who was missing, Cannon reportedly said. The mother of the woman was supposed to meet a suspect holding her daughter for ransom, but when the suspect did not show up for the scheduled exchange in north Houston, she called for help.
“The scope of how long it has been operating will be investigated by ICE because of the magnitude of this,” Cannon reportedly said. “The officers were very surprised by the conditions and the number of people inside.”