Sixteen illegal immigrants were freed in a predawn raid Friday in Pasadena from what authorities say was a fortified home used by smugglers.
The house, in the 200 block of West Claremont Street, was locked from the inside, and the door had to be forced open, said Janet Pope, spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department.
Inside, authorities found 21 people, including a toddler. Five of them are suspected of smuggling the immigrants into the United States and holding them until relatives paid for their passage, Pope said.
Police were alerted by the brother and wife of someone in the house who had gone there to pay for their relative's transit from Mexico, Pope said. Instead, they were told they owed still more money. They left and flagged down a California Highway Patrol officer.
The immigrants told authorities that they had arrived at the house in northwest Pasadena on Thursday. Some said they had not eaten in a week, Pope said. They were being questioned late Friday by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents.
INS spokesman Francisco Arcaute said the investigation was continuing and he did not know whether any arrests had been made.
"I do add that the relatives of those within the United States who allegedly financed this operation may find themselves also accused of contributing to the smuggling of aliens," he said.