Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents on Oct. 4, rescued three Guatemalan undocumented noncitizens who were being held for ransom. Their suspected hostage takers were also arrested.
The Albuquerque Police Department assisted with the rescue of a mother and her two daughters – ages 5 and 9.
In the course of their investigation, special agents encountered 58 undocumented noncitizens.
Marcelo Alonso-Almaraz, 32, and Eloisa Almaraz-Vasquez, 35, both undocumented noncitizens from Mexico, are charged with human smuggling and hostage taking. Alonso-Almaraz is also charged with possession of a firearm. Both made an initial appearance in federal court Oct.4, and attended a preliminary and detention hearing today, where they were ordered held without bond pending their judicial proceedings.
The three Guatemalans were allegedly being held for ransom in an apartment in the 500 block of Palomas Drive in Albuquerque. According to court documents, a relative residing in Arizona paid $30,000 to have her sister and two nieces smuggled into the United States. However, the smugglers demanded an additional $6,000 to release them.
“What started as a joint effort by HSI and the Albuquerque Police Department to rescue kidnapping victims, revealed not just the illicit movement of people, but a criminal network involved in extortion,” said HSI El Paso Special Agent in Charge Francisco B. Burrola. “Human smuggling is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, and the individuals being smuggled are viewed as cargo by the transnational criminal organizations, whose nefarious activities demonstrate a total disregard for both our laws and for human life.”
HSI Albuquerque special agents conducted an enforcement action and rescued the kidnapping victims, apprehended 10 undocumented noncitizens, and arrested Alonso-Almaraz and Almaraz-Vasquez off of I-40 in a commercial parking lot, where the hostage takers were to receive the additional smuggling fee.
Later in the day, special agents executed a search warrant at the apartment on Palomas Driver where they located an additional 48 undocumented noncitizens, seized nearly $47,000 in U.S. currency, ledgers, a firearm and a loaded magazine. Forty of the undocumented noncitizens were from Mexico; 14 from Guatemala, and four from Ecuador. Court documents show that there was an inadequate food supply, lack of water and severe overcrowding in the apartment.
The public is urged to report suspicious smuggling activity by calling toll-free 1-866-348-2423, or by completing a tip form online.
HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.