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Texas woman charged with 'harboring' 17 illegal immigrants, including 2 minors, until they 'worked off' thousands of dollars of 'debt'

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A Texas woman has been charged after 17 illegal immigrants, including two children, were allegedly found hiding in her home.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Texas, Manuela Magdalena Jimon Castro, 30, has been charged with "alien harboring." Authorities believe that Castro and a member of her family had joined forces with a human smuggling ring to extort money from illegal immigrants.

The DOJ claimed that it first learned of the operation when a woman in California alerted local authorities that her sister had been held hostage in Texas. The woman claimed that her sister was traveling from Guatemala and had hoped to be granted asylum in the United States. However, just before she crossed the border from Mexico, she was allegedly kidnapped by members of a Mexican drug cartel. She was then taken into the U.S. and transported back and forth between Texas and New Mexico until she ultimately wound up at Castro's home. The unidentified woman supposedly sent her sister a pin of her location in Friona, Texas, before she escaped.

When police conducted a search of Castro's home, they say they discovered 17 illegal immigrants hiding throughout the house. Some were "concealing themselves in the attic, in cupboards, or inside totes covered in blankets," according to a statement from the DOJ.

Police say they also saw an array of mattresses and blankets strewn about the floor, but that otherwise, there was very little furniture there.

When questioned, the people found at the home admitted that they had entered the U.S. illegally. However, they also claimed that they had been held at Castro's home and told that they either paid Castro between $10,000 and $12,000 for "entrance fees" or "worked off" their "debt."

"They indicated that the smugglers had confiscated their cell phones, and only allowed intermittent contact with family members in order to obtain money to pay their 'entrance fees.' Several stated that they believed they had to stay at the residence in Friona until their entrance fee had been paid in full," the DOJ statement adds.

Castro supposedly threatened to deprive them of food and water until the payments were made.

Castro appeared before Magistrate Judge Lee Ann Reno on Thursday. She faces a maximum of five years in federal prison if convicted.

H/T: The Hill

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