Experience has deadened federal immigration officials to stories of human smugglers holding their living cargo for ransom, with threats of harm if the payment isn't enough or too slow in coming.
But even experienced U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were taken aback to learn a hostage recently rescued in Mesa was a 4-year-old boy.
The child was freed from a hotel, and two suspects in his kidnapping were arrested Oct. 21, ICE announced Wednesday.
Now, two illegal immigrants face kidnapping and extortion charges, while two other Mexican men are being prosecuted for re-entry after deportation.
"It's well-known that human smugglers have little regard for human life," said Matt Allen, special agent of the ICE Office of Investigations in Arizona. "However, threatening the safety of a child takes this reprehensible disregard to a whole new level."
Five other people arrested were deported, said Armando Garcia, ICE office assistant special agent in charge.
The boy, a U.S. citizen, was hungry but unharmed when rescued. He has yet to be reunited with his mother, an illegal immigrant from Central America, pending positive identification.
According to Garcia, the mother had gone to her native Guatemala with three children and, for an unknown reason, left the boy behind when returning to the United States.
She had arranged for the boy's transportation to Florida, but soon received phone calls threatening her son's life and demanding money. That's when she contacted the police in West Palm Beach, Fla.
ICE investigators determined the boy was being held in the Valley, although Garcia refused to give specifics on how that conclusion was reached.
The "takedown" at the unnamed hotel went without incident, Garcia said.
Marcelino Ramirez-Velasquez, 34, of Guatemala, and Jose Luis Torres-Pais-Paez, 25, of Mexico, have each been indicted on charges of kidnapping and theft by extortion. A Maricopa County grand jury issued the charges on Friday.