The Washington Post

In Houston ‘stash house,’ over 100 immigrants were locked up in squalor and filth

Authorities search people, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in southeast Houston. A house overflowing with more than 100 people presumed to be in the U.S. illegally was uncovered just outside Houston on Wednesday, a police spokesman said. The suspected stash house was found during a search for a 24-year-old woman and her two children reported missing by relatives Tuesday.  (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle /AP)

U.S. immigration authorities on Thursday interviewed more than 100 foreign nationals found imprisoned in a dilapidated Houston-area home.

Police found adults and children on Wednesday in a house so crowded that they were sitting in each other’s laps, The Houston Chronicle reported. They had exactly one bathroom. They didn’t have hot water. They didn’t have shoes — smugglers had stolen them to prevent escape.

The 115 people, from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, were living in squalor in a suspected south Harris County “stash house,” a place where smugglers take people they’ve brought into the U.S. illegally, holding them until relatives pay a ransom, according to news reports. Their windows were boarded with plywood. Their doors were locked from the outside. Police said they believe the surrounding property, filled with pigs, geese and chickens, was likely used in illegal cockfighting.

People wait outside a house as authorities hold an investigation, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in southeast Houston. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle/AP)

John Cannon, a spokesman for the Houston Police Department told The Associated Press:

“It was just filth, very squalid-like conditions inside. Trash bags with clothing piled as high as you can see. … They were very surprised at the numbers of people inside. Some were just sitting on top of one another because there was just no room.”

The group was discovered after a tipster told police a scheduled coyote drop of a mother and her two young children didn’t happen as planned on Tuesday night. The next day, police arrested five men for a variety of offenses, including hostage taking, weapons charges and conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, ICE Special Agent Brian Moskowitz said on Thursday.

A person is taken from stash house on a gurney, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in southeast Houston. (Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle/AP)
Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Tweet her: @lindseybever

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