5 Arrested In Houston After Smuggling 90 Undocumented Immigrants, DOJ Says

Houston police say they found over 90 people huddled together inside a southwest Houston home Friday afternoon.

Houston police say they found more than 90 people huddled together inside  of the Southwest Houston in April 2021.
Houston Police Department
Houston police say they found over 90 people huddled together inside of a southwest Houston home Friday afternoon.

Updated 2:10 p.m. CT May 3

Five people will face federal charges after allegedly harboring nearly 100 undocumented immigrants in a Southwest Houston home, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

The criminal complaint, filed Saturday, accused Marina Garcia-Diaz, Henry Licona-Larios, Kevin Licona-Lopez, Marco Baca-Perez, and Marcelo Garcia-Palacios of harboring, concealing, and shielding the 97 immigrants for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.

Authorities say the investigation began after a woman reported that her brother had been kidnapped. She allegedly paid thousands of dollars for her brother to be smuggled into the country, but the alleged smugglers demanded more money in order to release him, according to court documents.

The investigation led law enforcement to a two-story home in southwest Houston, where 97 undocumented people were allegedly being held.

The criminal complaint says the alleged smugglers prevented captives from escaping by attaching deadbolts on the doors and threatened to kill them if ransoms weren’t paid.

If convicted, each person could face up to 10 years in prison, and possible $250,000 fine.

The Houston Police Department said they executed a search warrant after receiving the tip Thursday night. Upon entering the home, a SWAT team found the large group huddled together, prompting HPD to reclassify the case.

At a media briefing outside of the home, HPD Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards said that some of the people exhibited COVID-like symptoms, such as lack of smell and taste. Edwards said that rapid COVID-19 tests were administered.

Edwards added that no minors were found inside the house, and that the group consisted mostly of men.

In a statement to Houston Public Media, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that the case would be handled by an investigative branch of the agency.

"Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is working with the Houston Police Department to investigate the suspected stash house," the statement read.

The case is among several in the Houston-area that have occurred in the past few months, including one late last year that involved nearly 30 captives.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Trovall.