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Updated Sep 3, 2014 - 3:12 pm

Honduran boy smuggled into US held captive in Phoenix

TUCSON, Ariz. — Police in Phoenix last week rescued a 13-year-old Honduran
boy who was held captive by suspected smugglers after he crossed into Arizona
illegally as an unaccompanied minor.

The city is no stranger to tales of migrants whose smugglers get greedy and
demand more money in exchange for freedom. But in most publicized accounts, the
victims have been adults.

On Friday, immigration authorities in Florida received a call from the boy’s
mother, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her son’s smugglers were
demanding more money and refused to release him, she said. Within 10 hours,
authorities in Florida and in Phoenix had tracked the boy down to a north
Phoenix apartment.

Frances Salas, a suspect in the kidnapping, opened the door and allowed
authorities to search the apartment, authorities said.

The boy matched a photo they had. He was unharmed. Salas, 27, was arrested on
charges of kidnapping and possession of marijuana for sale after police found a
pound of pot in the apartment.

Jesus Millan-Rodriguez, 31, was also arrested and charged with the same counts.

The boy, who is not being identified, is considered an unaccompanied minor
because he was without any adult relatives when he was found. That makes him one
of the more than 66,000 unaccompanied youth who have been apprehended after
crossing into the United States illegally. Most are from Honduras, El Salvador
and Guatemala, and most have crossed through south Texas.

His case shows that even if the children make it past the hundreds of miles of
dangerous travel and past U.S. Border Patrol agents, they still face perils.

“There are cases, not necessarily the majority, where smugglers will attempt
to extort additional money — usually out of family members that are paying the
fee — by holding their loved one hostage. And these can become ruthless
situations. We are very grateful that this child was found unharmed,” said
Amber Cargile, spokeswoman for the Phoenix office of U.S. Immigrations and
Customs Enforcement. “This is a business operation. They don’t view these
people as humans, not even the children.”

The Honduran boy is now in the custody of the federal Department of Health and
Human Services, which usually seeks to reunite children with relatives while
their immigration cases unfold in court.

As a potential victim of a crime, the boy also could qualify for a special visa
or deferred action from deportation.

Cargile said that while the agency has seen migrant youth be held against their
will in the past, it’s not a common occurrence.

Arizona has seen a steep decline in illegal immigration apprehensions. South
Texas, where border agents this summer became so overwhelmed with a wave of
immigrant children that they were forced to send the kids to Arizona for
first-step processing, has been the hotspot this year for border crossings.

Cargile also attributes the decline in illegal immigration in Arizona to
beefed-up efforts against human smugglers.

In March, a Mexican man was sentenced to 70 years in federal prison for his
role leading a “rip crew” that preyed on migrants crossing the border
illegally.

Isabel Perez-Arellanez was with two others when they encountered three border
crossers who’d been separated from their group and were lost in the Tumacacori
Mountains south of Tucson. Perez-Arellanez and his partners held the migrants at
gunpoint for over two days. After extorting more than $1,000 out of relatives,
the men left the migrants in the desert without food or water.

Late last year, three men were sentenced in federal court after being found
guilty of crimes related to holding migrants hostage in a west Phoenix drop
house. The men had held three migrants and tried to extort additional money out
of their families by threatening to “slit their throats and send pictures.”

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