Houston Police Investigating Possible Human Smuggling Ring After 19 Found in Apartment

Police in Houston, Texas are investigating what may be a human smuggling ring after they reportedly found 19 people living in a one-bedroom apartment in southwest Houston Wednesday afternoon.

Houston police responded to a call from a community member in the early afternoon on Wednesday, saying there were between 30 to 40 people living in a "very small one-bedroom apartment," according to a press conference led by Assistant Police Chief Michael Skillern. When officers knocked on the door to perform a welfare check, they found 19 men and women, including one unaccompanied minor, living in "deplorable conditions."

The officers, reportedly concerned for their welfare, began to lead the 19 people out of the apartment. Supervisors and the Homeland Security Investigations [HSI] divisions were called out of concern the people might be part of a human smuggling operation.

There is no word yet on what will happen to the 19 possible victims after they are turned over to the HSI investigation.

Skillern replied to several reporters' questions regarding the state of the people in the apartment when they were found. According to Skillern, there were 18 adults and one minor who "appeared to be somewhere between 13 and 16." They appeared to be of "some sort of Hispanic origin," and were "speaking Spanish."

Law enforcement officers have not yet identified any sort of "ring leader," out of the group. Skillern told reporters they have not yet spoken to the person who rented the apartment, which he said has been rented for about two weeks, but that he believes that will be part of HSI's ongoing investigation.

"At this point," he said, "we're merely concerned for the welfare of the people that are in the apartment."

In response to additional reporter questions, Skillern said the 19 people were all clothed, did not appear to be severely malnourished or in immediate need of emergency medical care and did not appear to be locked in, since one of them was able to open the door to officers at the time of the welfare check. He did note there was no furniture at all in the "very small" apartment.

One reporter questioned Skillern about increased human trafficking activity in the area, saying "[since] December, this has been about the sixth human trafficking bust that we've seen in the southwest Houston area. Tell me, are you guys increasing operations, or is this kind of known as a hot spot for this type of thing? Just tell me what's going on."

Skillern responded Houston police do not currently have a squad seeking out human trafficking or smuggling, and simply respond to community reports as they come in.

Skillern added, "If someone sees something they think is odd, they should definitely call and then we'll respond and see what the scene looks like."

Newsweek reached out to Houston police for comment.

Houston Police
Police in Houston, Texas are investigating what may be a human smuggling ring after they reportedly found 19 people living in a one-bedroom apartment in southwest Houston Wednesday afternoon. This image shows a Houston police squad car in downtown Houston, Texas on June 2. Mark Felix/Getty