Groups unite over human trafficking
PHARR — While the Rio Grande Valley’s status as a major smuggling corridor is no secret, law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations are working to expose the presence of human traffickers and trafficking victims ahead of Monday’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
“When it comes to human trafficking, our best offense is the community,” Hidalgo County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Juan Villescas told stakeholders gathered Thursday to discuss the topic. “We’re asking people to bring this crime out of the closet, out of the shadows.”
There are key distinctions between smuggling, which involves a crime against a border, and trafficking, which involves a crime against a person, said Michael Renaud, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations. Smuggling is transportation-based while trafficking is exploitation-based, and smuggling is voluntary while trafficking is involuntary and involves force, fraud or coercion.
“Smuggling and trafficking can overlap,” Renaud said, noting that people who are smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border can become human trafficking victims when forced to work in order to pay their smuggling fee.
While the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office, which organized Thursday’s event, does not have data on the prevalence of human trafficking in the Valley, nonprofit organizations cited the presence of trafficking in the agriculture and domestic labor sectors.
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