Immigration agents found 73 migrants living in houses operated by human smugglers in the Northwest area of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, according to internal documents reviewed by NBC News.
The migrants, 60 adults and 13 children, were discovered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations team as part of an operation that targeted six residential homes believed to be operated by human smugglers. The agents also found $95,000 and a small amount of cocaine, the documents said.
The northwest quadrant contains some of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, and the median home price is $750,000, according to Redfin data. The documents don’t give addresses or neighborhoods for the houses where the migrants were living or say how many were being held in a single house.
Undocumented migrants frequently pay human smuggling organizations with ties to drug cartels thousands of dollars to bring them across the U.S.-Mexico border and to keep them hidden as they make their way to their final destinations in the U.S.
Often they are kept in buildings known as “stash houses,” where migrants are cramped into tight quarters without bedding, running water or air conditioning and told they cannot leave without the permission of the smugglers.
Typically, however, those houses are closer to the border as migrants then find their way to live with family members inside the U.S. It is unclear why so many migrants were being kept in what appear to be stash houses in Washington, D.C.
In recent months, more harrowing stories have emerged of migrants being mishandled by the smugglers they pay to give them a safe passage into the U.S. Last month, 50 migrants perished by asphyxiation in the back of an overheated tractor trailer that was abandoned by smugglers on the side of a highway in San Antonio.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.