by Ildefonso Ortiz 13 Oct 2014, 11:02 AM PDT

MCALLEN, Texas -- The recent immigration surge in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley where thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America came across the border en masse exposed a deep dark secret that victimized people all across the continent.

Unbeknownst to most, drug cartels in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas and in South Texas had taken control of the human smuggling routes having diversified their criminal activities to not only include the transport of drugs but also human smuggling and a myriad of other activities that turned the quest for the American dream into a horrifying nightmare.

The court records read like horror stories, women and girls getting raped by multiple men along the way, decrepit houses with subhuman conditions, minimal food and water, kidnappings for ransom and gruesome acts of torture all await the hopeful illegal immigrant wanting to make his way north.

At first glance, 17-year-old Stephany Martinez appeared to be a regular teen; small in size and showing innocent smile, Martinez would have fit in at any school. Instead the teenager is currently sitting in a Texas jail facing multiple counts of aggravated kidnapping. Court records obtained by Breitbart Texas show that Martinez along with her husband kidnapped seven illegal immigrants and rather than help lead them north, held them for ransom, extorting money from their families in the U.S. and in Central America. In order to instill fear in the immigrants and to get the families compliance, Martinez and her husband would beat the immigrant and point firearms at their heads while threatening to cut their fingers off and feed it to them. Martinez and her husband had been trying to get between $2,000 to $3,000 from the victim’s families, however one managed to escape and lead police to the stash house of horrors.

The tale of torture, rape, and ransom is repeated time and time again in South Texas where human smuggling has now rivaled the drug trade. For two years, Luis Fuentes has been living in suspense not knowing if his wife, Noely Alas Santos, is alive or dead. For years the couple had lived in New York where Luis worked as a roofer; however in 2012 Noely learned her father was gravely ill and she travelled back to El Salvador to be with him. Months later, Noely and her sister Reyna set of to make the journey from El Salvador to New York; however the journey took a turn for the worse when the two women crossed the Rio Grande into the border city of Hidalgo.

“They separated them,” Fuentes said during an interview with Breitbart Texas in Spanish. “One group took Reyna to a hotel where they held her for days and raped her. The other group took Noely … I haven’t heard from her since... why, why? ”
Fuentes received various calls from two cartel members in Reynosa requesting more money, after sending two separate money orders for $1200 the phone calls stopped and despite the passage of time Noely or her body has never been found.

“One had to remember that the primary goal of Mexican cartels is to make money,” said Breitbart Texas Contributing Editor and Border Security Expert Sylvia Longmire. “They are also incredibly adaptable to market conditions so if drug trafficking revenues are down, they’ll start picking up the pace in their kidnapping and ransom operations. This is the market dynamic that so few U.S. policy makers really seem to grasp -- as long as there is a demand for a black market item, there will always be at least one criminal organization willing to provide that item or that service.”

While Most people understand why drugs are so expensive and why cartels are involved, it is important to understand that in the minds of human smugglers, illegal immigrants are just another black market commodity, Longmire said. “There is a huge demand to bring these people across the border illegally so the cost to do so comes at a high premium,” Breitbart Texas’ security expert said. “ The harder we make it for people to enter the country the more money smugglers and their cartel bosses will demand from illegal immigrants and the bigger a business it will become for them."

As Breitbart Texas had previously reported, the ransom amounts being collected by smuggling groups add up to large amounts of cash. The amount of ransoms collected is hard to quantify because most of it goes unreported but what is known is that the numbers of people that disappear continues to go up, Rafael Hernandez the founder of the rescue group Angeles Del Desierto or desert angels told Breitbart Texas. While active in Arizona and California, Hernandez had been making regular travels to Brooks County in South Texas trying to locate the hundreds of persons that go missing and during his trips has heard the horror tales of kidnapping, torture and death.

While in previous years human smuggling had been a criminal activity with minimal violence, the dynamic changed in the mid 1990’s when drug cartels began splitting Mexico into territories where they exacted absolute control over every criminal activity, said a Tamaulipas law enforcement official who spoke with Breitbart Texas.

“That was the time when the Gulf Cartel began marking its territory and forcing all the independent drug and human smugglers to play by their rules or else,” the official said. “The same was done by the other cartels basically slicing the pie into lucrative pieces.” The “trata” is very very lucrative; he said using the Spanish word for human trafficking. “So if you collect a low ball park figure of $1,000 per person for safe passage through your plaza (territory), and you have thousands of them crossing per month you can see that they are dealing in serious money,” the law enforcement official said. “The same happens over there in Texas where they kidnap them and get another $1,000 or $2,000 from the families. The money seems like a small amount but it adds up very fast.”

Once they controlled the territories the cartels moved in on all criminal enterprises collecting a fee for anything that crossed their turf be it humans, drugs, guns, cash and other products, the official said.

“That is the model that has been in place since, as expected once cartels got into human trafficking their methods of doing business started surfacing and that is when you started seeing stash houses, torture and even the San Fernando Massacres,” the law enforcement official said.

The San Fernando Massacre is the term used to describe the slaughter of 72 Central Americans by the Zetas drug cartel in 2010. San Fernando is just 80 miles south of the Texas border along the highway that connects the border city of Matamoros with the Tamaulipas capital of Ciudad Victoria. In that massacre the Zetas drug cartel murdered the group after the guide failed to pay the fee needed to ensure their passage.

The bodies of the victims were found in a warehouse by Mexican Marines who fought the Zetas in a fierce firefight. Just months later, in early 2011 Mexican authorities found 193 bodies that remain unidentified in shallow graves.