Press Release

IACHR Expresses Deep Concern over the Discovery of 110 Migrants being Held Against their Will in a “Stash” House in the United States

April 11, 2014

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is deeply concerned about the discovery of 110 migrants in an irregular situation being held against their will in a small house in a Houston, Texas.

According to publicly available information, these migrants were rescued on March 19, 2014 after police officers were tipped off as to their presence in the house in question. The United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) reported finding 95 men and 15 women on the premises. The migrants originated mainly from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and ranged in ages from 5 to 47, including a pregnant woman and 17 children. Police reported finding the migrants in squalid and cramped conditions, stripped of clothing and shoes potentially to hinder their escape. Most of the migrants reported being held under armed guard in the house for a couple days with insufficient food and water. According to information available to the public, all the persons taken from inside the house, with the potential of those who may be receiving medical attention, were placed under the custody of ICE. According to ICE spokesperson Greg Palmore, this was the “largest number of people [ICE has] encountered in one residence” in at least the past five years, citing another “stash” house found in Houston in 2012 with 86 persons inside. Five men connected to the house have been formally charged on hostage-taking, weapons, and conspiracy charges.

The Commission wishes to highlight how this case illustrates the growing phenomenon of the kidnapping of migrants, even large-scale kidnappings, which occur in countries of transit and destination of migrants in the region. The Commission is also concerned about information it has received on the increasing involvement of transnational organized criminal groups in the smuggling of migrants, the kidnapping of migrants, and human trafficking.

According to Commissioner Felipe González, the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, “In a case such as this one, United States authorities must ensure the application of and access to appropriate measures to screen and identify those persons who may be in need of international protection or due to their vulnerable condition require other special measures of protection. Given the mixed nature of migration flows, especially to the United States, the persons found in this ‘stash’ house should not be automatically detained or deported, but rather the State should work with those persons rescued to ensure their access to protection regimes.”

The IACHR urges the United States to maximize its efforts in the prevention, investigation, prosecution and punishment of these crimes. The IACHR also urges the United States to protect and provide assistance to migrant victims of crime, in cases such as the present, to ensure their physical, psychological, and social recovery.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 38/14