Police raid busts human-smuggling ring in Southeast Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After hours of staking out and waiting, Austin police busted one of the largest human-smuggling operations in recent years. Authorities conducted the raid on a mobile home on Freidrich Lane in Southeast Austin around 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Inside the home they found 28 people, but police were still unclear who was operating the ring, and which people were victims.

However, Officer Veneza Bremmer says 26 left the trailer voluntarily while two refused to emerge until tear gas was used to rout them. They were taken to an Austin hospital for treatment.

Police said the group was made up of adult men and women smuggled in from Central America and believed many of them were being help there against their will.

The Human Trafficking and Vice Unit with the Austin Police Department took the lead on the investigation after receiving a tip from an informant that people inside the home were being mistreated and harmed, according to police.

Authorities spent the morning securing search warrants and monitoring the neighborhood. Once detained, the group was taken in to be interviewed by Austin police detectives.

Police sources tell KXAN a couple of the 28 men and women detained were separated with a possible connection to a smuggling operation.

“In immigration court proceedings, you don’t have an appointed attorney. You don’t have the right to an appointed attorney. So, if you can’t afford legal council, you’re going to be representing yourself,” said Stephanie Taylor, a staff attorney with American Gateways.

Taylor says American Gateways is working on 12-15 human trafficking cases so far this year.

What happens to the people who were in the Austin mobile home depends on their circumstances and the details of the case.

Taylor told us she knows of cases where immigrants were promised visas, then arrive to a much different environment.

“When they get into the United States, their passport is taken from them. They’re kept under lock and key. They’re not paid. This is something that happens all the time, unfortunately, in this country.”

Neighbors in the community said the situation was just sad for everyone involved.

“People want to come to America,” said Dana Lain. “They just don’t have the means to do it, but they really need to find a way.”

There were two schools near the trailer park.  Police said Uphaus Early Childhood, which is on Freidrich Lane, and Josephine Houston Elementary School, about a half-mile away from the home, received notifications of their operation.

APD said it stationed an officer at the schools just in case, but the schools would make the calls to take any further precautions.  Police said they believe they are far enough from the schools that the operation should not impact them in any way.

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