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U.S. Immigration Agents Dismantle Human Trafficking Ring

Honduran women vicitims of slave smuggling operation

Posted: August 4, 2005


ICE agents escort Luisa Medrano, center, following her arrest as the ringleader of a group that smuggled young women into the United States and forced them to work in Medrano’s bars.
NEWARK, N.J.—Ten people, all alleged members of a ring operating in the United States and Honduras that smuggled young, undocumented Honduran women into the U.S. and forced them to work off their smuggling debt in bars in Hudson County, N.J., were indicted July 21.

The suspected ringleader, Luisa Medrano, was arrested July 20. Seven others from the group have been arrested, three by Honduran authorities. Two persons remain at large.

Medrano, 50, of Cliffside Park, N.J., is a U.S. citizen and native of El Salvador. She is the owner of three bars in Union City and Guttenberg, N.J., where the young women who were trafficked to Hudson County were put to work.

The women, mostly from rural, poor villages in Honduras—some as young as 14—were recruited under the false promise of getting legitimate jobs as waitresses in restaurants in New Jersey. Once brought to Hudson County by way of a safe house in Houston, Texas, however, they were put to work at several bars owned by the ringleader and subject to physical and emotional abuse.

The 31-count indictment describes, among other abuses, young victims being raped while being smuggled to the United States; victims sometimes far younger than 21 forced to continually drink alcohol and dance with male customers at the bars to raise money to pay human smuggling fees of between $10,000 and $20,000; victims being beaten if they were not compliant; victims forced to work in the bars up to seven days a week; and threats of deportation or harm to them and their families in Honduras if they did not comply with the ring’s demands.

Young women who became pregnant were forced to terminate their pregnancies so the ring could maintain them as income-producers, according to the indictment. In one case, a 21-year-old victim was allegedly forced to take pills intended to induce a spontaneous abortion. The next day, the victim gave birth to a live baby girl, who died shortly afterward.

“This case illustrates ICE’s commitment in identifying, investigating and prosecuting individuals who participate in the trafficking of human beings,” said Kyle Hutchins, Special Agent-in-Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Newark. “These individuals are criminals, driven by greed, who act without conscience in their brazen disregard of human rights and freedoms.”

The indictment charges the 10 individuals with violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, including counts of conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, alien smuggling and harboring illegal aliens. Medrano also owned three multi-unit buildings in Union City, where the victims were allegedly forced to live while they worked to pay off their smuggling debts.

The ring employed recruiters in Honduras to locate attractive, innocent young women—most in their teens and early 20s. It used smugglers, commonly known as “coyotes,” to get them into the United States illegally, and “enforcers,” who advised the Honduran women upon arrival in New Jersey of the true nature of their work. The women were told that they were required to repay a smuggling fee of up to $20,000 and the enforcers used physical abuse and intimidation to control and use them to make money for the conspirators.

The young women received $240 for approximately 48 hours of work per week, plus an amount related to the sale of drinks to customers they met at the bars. But they were required to pay virtually all their earnings to the ring.

Honduran authorities have worked closely with U.S. law enforcement to bring all the ring’s participants to justice.

 

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

 

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