LOS ANGELES – Authorities raided a squalid house Friday, capturing 70 illegal immigrants and four suspected smugglers believed to have been holding the migrants hostage while awaiting payment.
Federal agents and a sheriff's SWAT team entered the home before dawn, setting off flash-bang grenades to stun any smugglers inside.
Packed into the grimy one-story bungalow were 70 people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Mexico. Some slept 20 to a room, authorities said.
"It was squalor, absolute squalor. Bug infestations, trash on the floor," said Frank Johnston, an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The house had bars on the windows and a surveillance camera to monitor the outside, Johnston said. A handgun also was found.
Authorities were not immediately able to confirm whether any of the people were being held against their will.
Investigators learned of the home from a woman who called from Albuquerque, N.M., to say she had been held at the house and believed a relative was being held hostage there, Johnston said.
In Phoenix, more than 50 people accused of sneaking into the country in furniture trucks were charged Friday with conspiring with human smugglers in the first test of a new Arizona law that allows illegal immigrants to be prosecuted if they pay someone to transport them. They could face up to 2 years in prison.