The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investigating after more than 90 people were found in a house in southwest Houston in what police are calling a human smuggling operation.
Assistant Police Chief Daryn Edwards said police received a kidnapping call Thursday night, and the homicide division worked through the night to enter the house with a tactical team.
“When they got inside the house they realized that this is actually going to turn into a human smuggling investigation,” Edwards said at a Friday news conference, adding, “It was a big surprise when we got in the house and saw what we saw.”
Officers discovered dozens of people “huddled together” in the two-story home. Five of the people were women, and the rest were men, Edwards said. There were no children inside, and the youngest person is in their early 20s, he said.
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Edwards said it “didn’t look like there were any serious injuries involved.” Officers gave the people food and water because “they said they haven’t eaten in a while,” he said.
Edwards said officers were “concerned” there may be COVID-19 cases among the group, and the health department was en route to do rapid testing. Some people were not able to smell or taste, and some had fevers, he said.
“We haven’t heard anything from any of the neighbors as far as anything that would lead them to believe that there was something like that going on. It’s very surprising,” he said.
Edwards called the incident “disturbing” and “obviously not something that we see often.” He said Homeland Security Investigations, the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, was looking into it.
“It is definitely more of a smuggling thing and not a trafficking thing,” Edwards said.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, human trafficking involves
exploiting people for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation, while human smuggling involves the provision of a service — typically, transportation or fraudulent documents — to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country.