We've got our work cut out for us!
Texas, and especially the border areas of the Rio Grande Valley, have been called a human trafficking hub and the "gateway" of human trafficking into the U.S. Certainly, the Texas-Mexico border is a popular entry point for traffickers smuggling in people from all over Central and South America. But abolitionist Texans are refusing to let their state be further tainted by it's title, and have taken some serious legislative and grassroots action to close the gateway.
Local advocacy group Children At Risk has put forth a number of bills to the state legislature, including:
* HB533 created civil liability for human traffickers by providing victims with an avenue to sue traffickers.
* HB4009 established a victim assistance program, a statewide human trafficking task force and mandated training for law enforcement agencies to help identify victims.
* SB 707 requires sexually-oriented businesses to maintain proper identification records for employees or independent contractors.
* HB960 gives municipalities and counties the right to access the National Crime Information Center, to obtain criminal information on people applying for licenses to operate sexually oriented businesses.
* HB 3094 created civil liability for operating an illegitimate "massage parlor" in a county with a population of 3.3 million or more. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor and carries a fine of $1,000 per violation.
Despite these new tools for law enforcement and social service organizations, the abolitionists of Texas have their work cut out for them. An estimated 17,000 people are brought across the border each year, many of them duped with false promises of jobs that turn into slavery once they reach America. This is one of those cases where the issue of human trafficking does get tied up in the immigration debate and included in the hotly contested policies around border protection and immigration. Trafficking is one peice of a larger issue, but one which deeply affects both the people crossing the border and those who live in Texas and the rest of the U.S.
Immigration aside, however, bravo to Texas for being proactive. It's never easy to admit when you have a problem, especially one as serious as being the gateway to human trafficking into the U.S. But acknowledging the situation has helped Texas take important steps to rectify it.
Hear that traffickers? Don't mess with Texas.