165 kidnapped migrants freed in Mexico

Read the latest on this case in Spanish at CNNMexico.com.

Story highlights

NEW: The migrants were held in squalid conditions, officials say

A majority of the victims are Central American migrants

Mexico's Interior Ministry says they were held for weeks

Rights groups have said drug cartels target migrants in Mexico

CNN  — 

Mexican authorities say they’ve rescued 165 migrants who were apparently kidnapped as they tried to cross into the United States.

The victims were held for weeks in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, Mexico’s Interior Ministry said Thursday.

One hundred fifty of the migrants are from Central America. Another 14 are Mexican nationals, and one is from India, the ministry said.

They were crammed into a house and held in squalid conditions for two to three weeks, officials said. Photos released by the interior ministry showed blankets, shoes and buckets scattered on the fenced-in home’s patio.

“The victims said that they had the intention of entering the United States of America, but they were held against their will while a suspected criminal group contacted their families by phone and demanded different sums of money that were sent to their kidnappers,” Interior Ministry spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said.

Rather than taking them across the border, human traffickers apparently handed the migrants over to criminal groups, he said.

An anonymous tip describing people with weapons at a home in the city of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz led Mexican soldiers to the scene.

In front of the house, soldiers spotted a gunman who tried to flee with they arrived, Sanchez said.

They detained suspect Juan Cortez Arrez, 20, and handed him over to prosecutors.

Drug cartels that operate in the area are known to have kidnapped migrants in the past and requested ransoms for their release.

Sanchez did not identify any criminal group that could be involved and declined to respond to questions.

Amnesty International has said that immigrants in Mexico “face a variety of serious abuses from organized criminal gangs, including kidnappings, threats and assaults.”

At least 11,333 migrants were kidnapped during a six-month period in 2010, Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights said.

That year, authorities also found the bodies of 72 slain immigrants from Central and South America on an abandoned ranch near the Mexico-U.S. border.

The Central American migrants freed Thursday included 77 Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalans and 23 Hondurans.

Two of them were pregnant, and 20 of them were minors.

More than 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico over the past six years as violence surged and the country’s government cracked down on drug cartels, according to Mexico’s Interior Ministry. Authorities don’t have data on how many of the disappearances were connected with organized crime.

In Mexico, Central American immigrants under fire

CNNMexico’s Mauricio Torres and CNN’s Rafael Romo contributed to this report.