NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A report of a missing teen led Doña Ana County Sheriff’s deputies to a home where they say they saved 23 undocumented immigrants being held there. The department said these deputies saved lives.

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Doña Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart told KRQE the rescue happened just before noon on Wednesday in Vado, New Mexico, which is about 20 miles south of Las Cruces. She said they got a tip from a New Jersey law enforcement agency. A woman had reported her 15-year-old son was missing and possibly being held captive in New Mexico. But when Doña Ana County deputies got to the home they were led to much more.

“Twenty-two additional people, men, and women, I believe the rest were all adults – were being held inside the residence,” said Kim Stewart, Sheriff Doña Ana County.

Stewart said three of her deputies went to one of the homes and the person who opened the door admitted to having the teen and then gave him up. The teen then told deputies that others were being held in another home nearby. Deputies called Homeland Security, who then rescued the 22 others and discovered they were all undocumented immigrants. It’s unclear if Homeland Security officers got in the home through a warrant or if they were voluntarily let in.

The sheriff said she’s relieved they were able to save the group. “These are people, these are not party affiliations, these are not points of view, these are people and if we can at least ensure their safety to some extent and they are not left dead in the desert where we come upon them as bones, that’s a win for us,” said Stewart.  

She doesn’t know how the 23 people got there. But Stewart said they’ve seen similar cases of people getting transported across the U.S.-Mexico border, and becoming enslaved by their transporters who then demand a ransom from their families to get them back.

It’s unclear what happened to the group. The sheriff said Homeland Security took over the case. It is still unknown who or how many people were responsible for keeping them there but the sheriff said they were arrested by Homeland Security during the rescue. 

The sheriff said none of the undocumented immigrants were seriously injured. KRQE reached out to Homeland Security to learn more about the suspects and what charges they may be facing but have not heard back.