Most immigrants coming to Arizona and the United States from other countries cross the border in search of better economic opportunities or to escape crime and violence in their homelands. But for many people, the costs associated with crossing into the U.S., fear of being caught, and the unknown about the people helping them can lead to a terrifying life of violence and human trafficking.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes that ICE investigates, likened to modern-day slavery. Victims can pay traffickers to be transported into the U.S. only to find that they are under the control of their captors who have no intention of simply letting them go. They can be forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or forced labor to pay their debts of far more than they ever bargained for.
Just last week, four individuals were arrested on charges of sex trafficking a minor and conspiring to harbor illegal aliens in Houston, Texas. According to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson for the Southern District of Texas, since 2012 the four people operated several apartments in Houston as brothels, where they conspired to use minor undocumented Mexican immigrants and young women to solicit sex, for which the defendants would collect money.
Earlier that month, a young woman in Virginia was trafficked under an all too common situation. In that case, a man travelled to Honduras and met a then 17-year-old girl. The two began dating and the man told her he could get her a waitress job in the U.S. The man smuggled the girl into the U.S., and upon arrival it became clear to the girl that the man was involved in a prostitution ring, and that there was no waitressing job. After the girl refused to work as a prostitute, the man beat the girl until she gave in. She eventually called 911 after a severe beating, and the man is now in federal prison.
Undocumented immigrants are at increased risk for being trafficked because of their vulnerability at being in the country illegally. It is not just people from Mexico and Central America who are being trafficked into the U.S. Others from India, Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries are at rise. People from these countries are often unfamiliar with the availability of resources to help them, and protect them from abuse.
According to the International Labour Organization, the market of human trafficking is estimated to be almost $96 billion across the globe. However, because of the underground nature of the illegal sex and labor market, it is impossible to say how many people have become victims. Victims are isolated from interacting with others to prevent them from seeking help.
Many people trafficked into the U.S. resist reporting their abuse fearing threats that they will be deported, killed, or have family back home killed. However, since 2000, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) has created the T visa for people who have been victims of human trafficking, allowing victims to remain in the U.S. to help officials investigate and prosecute the trafficking crime.