National Politics

Rescued trafficked victim: It takes 5 to 13 years to buy freedom

(The Center Square) – A letter in possession of a woman rescued from a sex trafficking ring in Texas says it takes roughly five to 13 years to buy freedom. Law enforcement officers have told The Center Square it can take longer if the victims are sold more than once and owe multiple debts.

The letter was obtained by The Center Square from a law enforcement officer involved in rescuing trafficked Asian women in Rockport, Texas. Her name isn’t being disclosed for safety reasons. Two witnesses involved in the case were beheaded in Houston, law enforcement officers say, and others are afraid to expose a violent, extensive criminal trafficking ring operating out of Houston.

In this case, officers first rescued women being held in a sex-trafficking operation at a Korean foot spa in Victoria, Texas, where forced prostitution was occurring. They later discovered the same people were being moved and forced into prostitution in multiple locations. Victoria is a few hours south of Houston; Rockport is north of Corpus Christi.

The letter translated into English, reads, “Dearest Daughter, in USA we sometimes have something like a slave boy and slave girl. We call it indentured servant.

“A person goes to the job center to come to USA to work. That person is poor and has no money. They sign control to visas for a given length of time in exchange. They work for 5 to 13 years to pay back. Lots of these jobs are like housekeeping, farm worker, etc.

“Lots of women that come to the USA legally from Nicaragua [with work visas] come as indentured servant. I believe that it is wrong to own another person. If I thought Annie owned you or others until they paid back the cost to come to USA I would want to pay the debt.”

Annie likely refers to the boss controlling the trafficked victims, a law enforcement officer explained to The Center Square.

“Please forgive me I do not want you to think that I believe China is not a great country and a proud nation. Please forgive me,” the letter reads. Chinese traffickers were involved in the case, the law enforcement officer said.

Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd, who worked in law enforcement for years in Victoria County and has been thwarting criminal activity along the Highway 59 corridor, told The Center Square, “many people think slavery ended after the Civil War but slavery is actually larger today. It just looks different. Those smuggled into the country may work at hotels, but they won’t work for the hotels, they work for cartels.”

Boyd said that cartel and gang operatives not only hold their victims’ passports but also control their movements, overseeing their forced labor and living arrangements. They control where they live and transport them to and from their jobs.

“They charge their modern-day slaves for rent and for food,” he said, “acting as contractors, divvying up money to workers. As many as 15 people may be staying in a one-bedroom apartment.” Those trafficked into forced labor, Boyd said, “may work for one group and just as they are about to pay off what they owe they are sold to another group and their debt starts all over again.”

Boyd launched an Operation Lone Star task force working in multiple counties thwarting criminal activity along the Highway 59 corridor stemming from the southern border to Houston. The more than 90 people held inside a Houston neighborhood house who were rescued last April, he said, were traced back to a smuggling ring and stash house he and his deputies uncovered in Goliad County.

Texas law enforcement working through Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star continue to thwart human smuggling operations stemming from the southern border. They’re interdicting smugglers using 18-wheelers, dump trucks, moving trucks, cars and vans, private planes and train cars to move people brought into Texas illegally north to major Texas cities and then into the res of the U.S. The FBI also has warned that El Paso has become a major human smuggling and trafficking destination for cartel and gang operatives.

“Human smuggling involves bringing noncitizens into the United States via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of noncitizens already in the country illegally,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement states. It’s “a gateway crime for additional criminal offenses, including illegal immigration, identity theft, document and benefit fraud, gang activity, financial fraud and terrorism.”

Abbott recently increased the reward for anyone providing information about stash houses being used by transnational criminal organizations. Last year, he and the state legislature increased penalties for human smugglers and Texas became the first state to make buying sex a felony.

According to an annual report by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, while many criminal enterprises in Texas slowed down because of COVID-19 in 2020, “human trafficking flourished.” During the first 11 months of 2020, there were more than 1.5 million unique commercial sex advertisements posted in the state of Texas, over 20% of which advertised suspected children, the report found.

Human trafficking, a separate crime from human smuggling, relies on smuggling, involves adult sex trafficking, adult labor trafficking, child sex trafficking and child labor trafficking.

Adult sex trafficking involves trafficking adults for commercial sex by force, fraud, or coercion; labor trafficking involves trafficking adults for labor by force, fraud, or coercion. Child sex trafficking involves trafficking children under age 18 for commercial sex by any means; labor trafficking involves trafficking children under age 18 for labor by force, fraud, or coercion.

The Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center and the National Human Trafficking Hotline have published extensive resources and the Hotline encourages anonymous tips by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting 233733.

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

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