MESA, AZ - A 9-year-old Ecuadorian boy was rescued Friday, by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after allegedly being held hostage by a human smuggler for more than four months.
The day before, ICE agents assigned to the Drop House Response Group in Phoenix received information from the ICE tip line about the youth, who became separated from his mother while they were illegally crossing the border in southern Arizona May 4. Agents say the smugglers demanded $4,000 for the child's release, which his parents were unable to pay.
Information provided to Phoenix from the boy’s mother and Ecuadorian law enforcement officials led investigators to an apartment in the 900 block of West Main Street in Mesa. After agents set up surveillance and confirmed that the boy was being held against his will, investigators moved in and rescued the boy. They also arrested the suspected smuggler, 25-year-old, Mario Fernandez-Fernandez.
"Parents who contract with human smugglers should remember they are delivering their children into the hands of criminals, criminals who are often all too willing to put a child's welfare at stake for their own personal gain," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE in Arizona.
ICE is working with the Ecuadorian consulate to reunite the boy with his parents.
Mario Fernandez-Fernandez made his initial appearance in federal court in Phoenix Monday, where he was formally charged with human smuggling violations.
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