A hit-and-run crash in Lisbon, Maine, led authorities to a house where 17 undocumented migrants working for a Massachusetts company were living as part of an “elaborate human smuggling scheme,” according to the US Customs and Border Protection agency.
The migrants came from Nicaragua and Guatemala, the agency said in a statement Wednesday.
Officials said Border Patrol agents on Tuesday went to the Lisbon residence, based on information they’d received from local police investigating the hit-and-run probe.
Further information about the crash wasn’t immediately available.
The federal agents went to the home and determined the migrants worked for a Massachusetts-based company that rented the property to provide lodging for its employees, according to the statement.
Neither the name of the company nor the address of the Lisbon home was released in the statement. A request for further comment was sent Thursday to a CBP spokesperson.
“Housing 17 people in one house is unsafe and degrading,” said William J. Maddocks, chief patrol agent of CPB’s Houlton, Maine, sector, in the statement.
“The exploitation of the undocumented population will continue as long as there is no consequence,” Maddocks said. “We will do all we can to remove the incentives that drive such exploitation, including the continued issuance of civil penalties, fines, and seeking federal criminal prosecution through the US Attorney’s office for every criminal law violation we encounter.”
The statement made no mention of any fines or criminal charges issued as part of the investigation.
The migrants were transferred for processing in Rangeley, Maine, where authorities learned two of them had allegedly reentered the US after previously being removed, a violation punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison, according to the release.
In addition, the statement said, four other migrants were found to have entered the United States without authorization and were already in removal proceedings as of Tuesday. Those four were “released to await” further proceedings in their cases, the statement said.
Two other people also were entered into removal proceedings, the release said.
The status of the remaining migrants discovered in the Lisbon home wasn’t immediately clear Thursday morning. None of the migrants were identified by name.
“This incident remains under investigation,” the statement said.
Meanwhile Maddocks said Wednesday that Maine is seeing “a sharp increase in the flow of” undocumented labor coming in and out of the state.
“No one is made safer by allowing criminal activity to go unchecked,” Maddocks said. “Immigration law violations are no different, and criminal activity without consequence is not in our community or national interests.”
Maddocks also tweeted photos of the cramped living conditions in the Lisbon home.
“Those who trade in the illicit movement of people and the exploitation of undocumented labor should not be free of consequence,” Maddocks wrote above the photos.
Agents from the Rangeley Station apprehended 17 undocumented non-citizens from a single home in Lisbon, Maine. Those who trade in the illicit movement of people and the exploitation of undocumented labor should not be free of consequence. pic.twitter.com/DLkw7WpTjg— William J. Maddocks, Chief Patrol Agent (@USBPChiefHLT) March 22, 2023
He thanked Lisbon police for their help with the investigation.
“@USBPMaine thanks our partners at the Lisbon Police Department and other local law enforcement partners for their assistance,” Maddocks wrote. “This activity, left uncheck[ed], will only continue to increase.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.