EXCLUSIVE: Inside stash house operations along the Southern border

EDINBURG, Texas—Cameras were allowed to follow agents inside stash houses to capture operations that Border Patrol agents do to investigate across the Rio Grande Valley.

A group of Border Patrol agents is trained to locate stash houses and find them quickly before the smugglers move people and drugs to another location.

“We have stash houses all the way from Rio Grande City to Edinburg to Brownsville,” said Jesus Elizondo, Special Operations Supervisor for U.S. Border Patrol.

Around 60 people from multiple countries were being held inside a motel in the city of McAllen, Texas. Nine of them were unaccompanied children, left to fend for themselves.

There is no standard stash house, Border Patrol agents said. They vary from small RV trailers to large homes in well-off-residential neighborhoods, regardless of the building.

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They are often full of people from other countries, crammed together, wishing to make it into the United States.

After spending three weeks with agents and finding dozens of stash houses, KVEO noticed that most of the people held inside the stash houses were men from Central American countries.

Evening anchor Sydney Hernandez spoke to several of them, and most of them share a similar story.

“We came to work, I know in the United States there is money to be made,” said Jose Lopez-Campos, a 19-year-old from El Salvador.

Lopez-Campos was apprehended after being held in a small mobile home for nine days in the city of Alamo, Texas.

“I owe a lot of money over there, medical bills, I owe to the bank, I owe to people, so my goal was to get here and work and send money back,” said Lopez-Campos.

Campos told KVEO that he saved up money to travel to North Carolina, where he already had family expecting his arrival in the coming days.

That won’t happen after agents busted the small home, where Lopez-Campos was hiding amongst 19 others.

The group was compromised of 16 men and three women, all from Central American countries.

Down the road, in the city of Alton, Texas another mobile home packed with undocumented immigrants was busted by agents.

The building was housing 60 people.

“The conditions were very poor, no water, no electricity, very tight and everyone was so close to each other, it was very small,” said Agent Jesse Moreno, U.S. Border Patrol.

When agents enter the home, they never know what is waiting on the other side of those four walls.

Some people cooperate with agents, while others run and hide, desperate to do whatever it takes to keep their American dreams from slipping away.

“I came for the American dream, everyone does it,” another immigrant told Hernandez. “Our own government tells us, we just come.”

Another group of 20 people was found in a small trailer adjacent to the mobile home in Alton.

Most of that group willingly walked out of the home when asked by agents, except one.

A 19-year-old from Guatemala was hiding under a sink, hoping agents would forget to check.

Minutes later, the teen was in handcuffs and joined the rest of the large group.

“We find people in sinks, hiding in attics, in the shower, underclothes, everything,” said agent Elizondo.

Our cameras captured more than a dozen stash houses across the Rio Grande Valley, but agents said this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We get them every day, one to three a day,” said Elizondo.

Sometimes with drugs and weapons.

In one stash house in the city of Donna, Texas, four people from Mexico and one caretaker were found among rounds of ammo, one real handgun, and one fake one.

A small girl was also found inside the home.

KVEO’s cameras saw similar stories all across the Rio Grande Valley.

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Regardless of the location, or how many people are inside, the priority remains the same- rescue anyone that’s being held in dangerous and inhumane conditions.

“Many times, the smugglers don’t feed them, they’ll leave food once a day and won’t come back for days at a time, they might not have air conditioning, any heating, water,” said Elizondo.

After the migrants are checked out and cleared, then large contractor buses pick them up to be processed.

They are driven to either holding facilities or Border Patrol stations to be processed and each case is different depending on their situation.

Meanwhile, agents head out to go find more stash houses all over the Rio Grande Valley.

“We’re protecting our communities, we live here, I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, that’s the reason we do this, we are protecting our nation and our communities, and we are also trying to protect these people from these horrible conditions they’re put in because we care,” said Elizondo.

As of Wednesday, the most recent stash house was busted in the city of Edinburg, where 35 people were found by agents in a small home.

Just 24 hours before that operation, another stash house was busted in Pharr, Texas with 71 people inside.

Among the group, three children were found traveling by themselves. 

Border Patrol agents have apprehended nearly 13,500 family units and unaccompanied children in the last four months, in the Rio Grande Valley alone.

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