Wichita, Kansas, Nov. 28, 2007
While the nation focuses on illegal immigration, there is a whole set of criminals preying and profiting off the fear of illegal immigrants. In a special investigation, KSN exposes the dark underground of human slavery, extortion and trafficking.
The story begins at an apartment in Houston, TX, where an alleged victim was told he could go and find work. We’ll call him Rico to protect his identity.
“When we arrived at the apartment, I realized there was something wrong. A lot of people were being held against their will. Then there was an individual with a handgun and he was telling folks that they could not go outside and leave.”
Rico says he was loaded into a van and brought to Wichita, where he was forced to work all day washing dishes in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. He was never paid.
“I was standing for 14 hours a day and we could not take breaks, we had to keep working.”
At night, Rico claims he and others were locked in a nearby apartment until the next morning when they were taken back to work. Then one morning, Rico and another man decided to make a run for it.
Rico says he has been working with federal authorities on the case, but no government official would comment to KSN.
Rico’s story however, comes on the heels of another case – the first ever prosecuted in Kansas involving the kidnap and smuggling of illegal immigrants.
Two Mexican nationals were arrested last January after the mini-van they were driving to a flat tire west of Hutchinson on Highway 50.
Deputy Shawn McClay responded to the call, “The tow truck company and myself opened up the back compartment of the van to see if we could find the tool and the spare tire to help them and change it. And it was at that time as soon as we opened it we saw the 11 Hispanics in the back.”
None of them were wearing shoes. Odd, thought Deputy McClay who knew at the very least he had a van of illegal immigrants.
“Now that I look back on it, some of them kind of seemed relieved. But at the time I didn’t know why.”
McClay’s instinct would prove right. When immigration officials questioned the group, they discovered the immigrants were hostages. A spokesperson says the captors deprived the group of their shoes, so they wouldn’t run away.
The Justice Department says the illegal immigrants were abducted from a stash house in Phoenix, Arizona. They were then held at gunpoint and then forced to call family members for payments. They’re not alone – nationwide these crimes are on the rise.
So why is this happening? Law enforcement officials say after September 11th, increased border patrols made human smuggling big business. Other crimes associated with smuggling have increased as well.
Rico says once in Wichita he learned his captors paid for him, “he said, no you owe me money I had to pay for you guys.”
Even though Rico managed to escape, he was left homeless, with no money and hundreds of miles from anyone he knew. He says he’s met others in Wichita who have experienced the same thing he has.
They don’t say anything, they don’t do anything they’re afraid because of the fear of being deported, and they are scared.”
But Rico says nothing’s scarier than what he has experienced, so he shared his story hoping authorities will put a stop to it.