JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – The state of Chihuahua has shut down a Juarez migrant shelter over allegations that its operator engaged in forced labor practices.

The operator, identified as Velia H.G., 54, was taken into custody on Wednesday on charges of human trafficking through forced labor in connection with six adults staying at her Aposento Alto shelter in northwest Juarez.

Velia H.G., 54

State police officers took a total of 19 Guatemalan nationals — including nine children — from the shelter to a medical facility for physical and psychological screening. They were later sent to a different shelter, the Chihuahua Attorney General said in a statement.

“This was the result of an ongoing, professional investigation,” the statement said. “Nineteen people who are migrants were rescued and a woman was arrested as the presumed culprit of crimes of human trafficking.”

State authorities said concerned citizens alerted them to possible abuse going on at the shelter.

Red police tape lines the front door at the Aposento Alto migrant shelter, which the state of Chihuahua shut down on Wednesday over allegations of forced labor. (Border Report photo)

A neighbor of the Lomas de Poleo neighborhood on Thursday told reporters the operators kept the migrants “imprisoned.”

“They were not allowed to go out, and if they were, they counted how much time they were out. Little girls wanted to go outside to play, but they got them inside and locked them in their rooms. They were like, kidnapped, punished,” said neighbor Juan Rodriguez.

Grissel Ramirez

Grissel Ramirez, the operator of a separate shelter in the Anapra neighborhood and the daughter of Velia H.G., the woman arrested, said the allegations were unfair.

“We have been supporting migrants since 2018,” Ramirez said “I urge people to see what is happening to my mom. You are exposed to being detained, to being accused unfairly. Close your shelters. Let’s see if the state government can accommodate so many people.”

State authorities did not immediately provide specific details of the forced labor charges.

Border Report has visited the Anapra/Lomas de Poleo area on several occasions and has been told by residents that migrant smugglers operate there unimpeded and will quickly approach anyone they think is trying to cross into the United States to peddle their services.

Both neighborhoods are just south of the border wall across from Sunland Park, New Mexico.