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61 held after raid on house

Immigration agents say the undocumented workers were living in squalor in a South L.A. home.

May 15, 2008|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Sixty-one illegal immigrants, including three toddlers, were discovered at a house in South Los Angeles early Wednesday by federal immigration agents serving a search warrant as part of an investigation into a human smuggling ring, authorities said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents entered the single-family, two-story home in the 10000 block of South Normandie Avenue about 6:30 a.m. and found the Central and South American immigrants crowded into the house, with trash and rotting food piled 2 to 3 feet high in each room, agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said. The immigrants told agents that they had been staying there since Friday.

"It was essentially a scene of squalor," Kice said.

The immigrants were transported to downtown Los Angeles for processing and interviews. It wasn't clear whether any of them were complicit in the smuggling operation.

The immigrants were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ecuador. There were six minors -- three teenagers and three toddlers. Immigration and Customs was working with the consulates of those countries to keep the young children with their mothers, Kice said.

In February, federal authorities announced they had dismantled a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of illegal immigrants each month into Southern California, using private homes as "drop houses" and a 99-cent store in Los Angeles as a staging ground.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the ringleaders made millions of dollars transporting about 5,000 immigrants after they illegally crossed the border into Arizona.

The agency's three-year investigation began in 2005, when Los Angeles police discovered more than 140 illegal immigrants in two locked drop houses in South Los Angeles. Authorities arrested two men -- both illegal immigrants who said they were paying off their own smuggling debts -- who authorities said were guarding the others until family members came up with the payments.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

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