Days after crossing into the country, an undocumented migrant escaped from a Nogales stash house where he’d been held against his will, threatened and extorted, according to statements the man made to local police officers.
The man reportedly sought help from authorities last Wednesday after smugglers took him to a mobile home on Western Avenue and, later, a house near West International Street. His comments are detailed in a report written by an officer with the Nogales Police Department.
The alleged victim told police that, at the house on West International Street, a man holding a shotgun told him, “if you do not pay more money, things are going to get real bad.”
The man’s name, age and citizenship were not revealed in the report.
Cpl. Oscar Mesta, the department’s spokesman, said on Monday that the case had been turned over federal immigration authorities and NPD wouldn’t investigate the allegations of extortion or the possible stash houses in the city.
“That’s an immigration thing so we don’t deal with that. It’s just once we get information, we hand it over to Border Patrol,” Mesta said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on whether federal agents would investigate the man's allegations or whether the alleged victim had been repatriated. The agency is now fast-tracking undocumented immigrants for deportation in an effort to reduce coronavirus risks for personnel.
According to the NPD report, the man said he entered the United States on March 29 and was transported to the Rio Rico area. He was left near the train tracks and told to hop on a train when it passed by.
That wasn’t part of the original deal he’d struck with the smugglers who were transporting him, he said. Instead, he’d been told that a car would take him further north, so he refused to get on the train and checked into a local hotel where his wife had booked him a room.
After two days, the man said, he got back in touch with the smugglers by phone and was then picked up and taken to a mobile home near Western Avenue, where other undocumented migrants were staying.
About a day later, he said, he was taken to the house near West International Street.
That’s where an unidentified male demanded payment from him, saying he had to pay up in exchange for transportation further north. After demanding the money, he said, the alleged assailant racked a shotgun.
It’s not clear how the man escaped, but he eventually made it to the DeConcini Port of Entry, where he reported the kidnapping.
NPD received a call for assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the DeConcini port at 8:04 p.m. on April 1, police department calls logs show. Officers responded to the port, where they spoke with the man, who officers said was breathing hard and appeared nervous.
At first, according to the NPD report, the man told officers a different story about his kidnapping. The man said that he had crossed into the country at 10 a.m. that morning and was kidnapped by the occupants of a Mercury station wagon who approached him and told him to get in the vehicle, then brought him to the house on West International Street.
When an officer asked the man if he was a Mexican national, the man responded that he was born in Los Angeles and currently living in Utah.
But when the officer brought the man to meet with NPD detectives, the man said that he was actually an undocumented migrant.
NPD called the U.S. Border Patrol and the man then reportedly told officers that he would “say the truth about what had occurred.” He explained how he had crossed the border without documentation and been extorted by his smugglers.
While Mesta said NPD had let the feds take over this case, the department did investigate another violent crime that occurred at a migrant stash house in Nogales in late 2018.
In that case, an undocumented Mexican woman was transported to a house in the Preston Hill neighborhood of Nogales, where she was repeatedly raped by the stash house caretaker.
The woman was later apprehended by Border Patrol agents after a vehicle she was riding in was stopped at the Interstate 19 checkpoint, but the case was transferred to NPD after the woman described the assaults to Border Patrol agents.
The woman was able to identify her assailant as Sergio Alfredo Bernal of Nogales when NPD officers took her on a ride-along in the area of the stash house. Bernal was subsequently arrested on state charges and convicted at Santa Cruz County Superior Court, where a judge sentenced him to 142.5 years in prison.