Posted: Mar 28, 2012 6:26 PM
Updated: Mar 28, 2012 7:30 PM
WESLACO - Border Patrol officials say the Rio Grande Valley is seeing an increase in stash houses used for human smuggling.
After a human smuggling operation was busted in Weslaco this week, the police chief in says that bust is uncommon for his city. Border Patrol assisted taking more than 50 illegals into custody.
Border Patrol spokesperson Rosie Huey says there is no way to find out if this is a bigger problem in some areas compared to others. She says according to Border Patrol's database, it's clear human smugglers are operating all over the Valley.
Huey also says according to BP's stats, there's an increase in stash houses being found around the Valley. Huey believes that's because more busts are taking place.
"RGV sector has seen an increase in stash house due to the collaboration we have with local, state and federal agencies as well as the tips we are receiving from community members," says Huey.
Huey says trying to determine where stash houses will pop up is impossible vecause it's unpredictable. She says those human smugglers will go wherever they think they can get away with it.
The most recent bust was in Weslaco this week. Recently, a stash house with humans inside was busted in Donna. San Juan police say they've had a problem with human smugglers in their city for quite some time.
It's Border Patrol's job to take the illegals into custody. Often these people are found staying in horrible conditions, dozens of them crammed in tiny dirty spaces.
Police are patrolling that home in Weslaco used in the human smuggling operation. About 60 illegal immigrants ran from police when they made the bust Monday at the home on South Missouri Street. Investigators think most of those who ran will likely return to the home. That stash house is locked and is still considered a crime scene tonight.
So where are the owners of that home? That's the burning question. Police need to talk to them. They have been missing for years.
Weslaco police began looking for homeowners Vicente and Obdulia Castillo on Monday. City code enforcement officers have been looking for them since 2009. The latest notice, for code violations, was sent out last September. It was kicked back to the city return to sender.
"We're still looking for the owners of the house. We do want to talk to them," says Weslaco police Chief Mike Kelley.
Police need to crack the case of the Castillos. Inivestigators need to know if Vicente and Obdulia Castillo were part of a human smuggling operation. Weslaco police spokesman JP Rodriguez says it has not yet been determined if they were in on it.
Police asked code enforcement officers to help them find Vicente Castillo. The city's been looking for him since 2009 when neighbors complained about a broken sewer line. Last year, the grass got so high, Castillo was put on notice.
Code enforcement snapped this photo five months ago. A real estate sign competed with the front yard. We spoke with a realtor who said the home was on the market for about 200 days. The sign recently came down.
Ana Maria Flores lives a stone's throw away. She said the property was abandoned until Saturday.
"And then Saturday morning, they were already cutting the grass," says Flores.
She's never met the Castillos.
Video from inside the home shows it needs a major cleaning. No one can touch the house until the homeowners are found. It's possible police could seize the property if Vicente and Obdulia Castillo aren't found. Code enforcement will go by the book. Weslaco may condemn the home after a drawn out legal process.
The stash house could be contaminated with disease. We don't know yet if any of the undocumented people who were living here had any diseases. It's possible when you have that many people packed like sardines inside a small space without any electricity or water, and it's possible some of the bacteria from those diseases is still alive inside.
"Anytime you've got people that close together you've got the risk of food borne illness, water born illness. They cant properly wash their hands or take baths," says Dr Brian Smith with Texas Department of Health Services.
The four walls of this stash house hide the hardship these undocumented people lived through for hours, days and maybe even weeks.
"It's not right to put human beings in situations like that; it's worse than a refugee camp," says Smith.
The head of Texas Department of Health Services in the Valley says stash houses are breeding grounds for diseases for the people who live inside them. Smugglers forced 100 people to live inside this stash house at 806 Missouri in Weslaco.
Most of these immigrants were from Mexico and Central America, and Smith says they could have brought diseases with them.
"The first on your list is always chicken pox, varicella, you've got your gastrointestinal like salmonella typhoid," says Smith. "Then you've got ectoparaisties like scabies, lice. Tuberculosis can happen with close contact inside the same enclosed space for weeks at a time."
Smith says it's easy for the undocumented to spread the diseases to each other. He says the contamination stops at the windows and the doors.
"You're not worried about the people in the community around the house as long as they are not in that enclosed space," says Smith. "Once the house is opened up and the windows have been opened up for an hour, you're not at risk."
He says law enforcement get special training on how to go through the stash house after they've rescued the illegals. The disease causing bacteria could live on the floors and the walls of stash houses for up to seven days before they die.
The house is locked tonight, nobody can get in. So whatever diseases are still living in here will stay until the city either finds the owners or decides what to do with this property.