Human Trafficking on the rise in border region
January 12th 2012 · 0 Comments
Written by Elizabeth Aguilera
Human trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico is on the rise as more young women are kidnapped or lured to the border area with promises of a better life but who find themselves locked away in an underground world of sexual slavery and prostitution, according to experts gathered Thursday in Chula Vista.The second annual Bi-national Forum to Address Human Trafficking held at Chula Vista City Hall brought together legal and government officials from both sides of the border to discuss cross-border developments, new laws to compact such trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
San Diego play a significant role in the trafficking of women and children, said Cynthia Cipriani, first assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern California District.
“What we have in San Diego is a perfect storm,” she said.
The population, which accounts for 60 percent of the people who live along the Southwest Border, the 80 million people who enter through San Diego’s ports annually and the complex system of highways that dart out to the furthest reaches of the country all make San Diego one of the top ten cities in the U.S. for child prostitution, Cipriani said.
According to the California Against Slavery campaign, which is collecting signatures for a proposed ballot measure to increase criminal penalties for those involved in human trafficking, at least 100,000 American minors are sold for sex each year, more than 17,000 foreign born slaves are moved to the U.S. annually and three of the top 10 child sex trafficking areas in the country are in California.
Cirpriani said cooperation between agencies and cross-border efforts to take down trafficking operations as well as rescue victims have increased in the recent years and continue to be built.
“In addition to protecting our American youth from the ravages of trafficking it’s also our goal to protect the youth in Mexico through stings to watch for Americans who go there looking for young women,” she said.
In the last several years organized crime groups have increased trafficking activities that include immigrants, guns, money and, more recently, an increased number of children and women, said Abel Galvan Gallardo, of the Baja California state attorney general’s office.
Bi-national effort are crucial, said Mexican Congresswoman Rosi Orozco.
Orozco shared the story of a young mother of two who was given to a pimp by her husband to be trafficked to the U.S.. The woman managed to escape but not before her friend, a 16 year old, was murdered when the two tried to run just before crossing into the U.S., she said. She was battered and beaten, scarred with cigarette burns across her body and now lives in a shelter for such victims, Orozco said.
“How can we change this situation,” she asked. “We need to punish both parts of the crime.”
The first being the gang and pimp organizations that force women and children into sexual slavery but also the “Johns,” the popular term for men who pay for sex that she called inappropriate and not reflective of their true crime.
“They are the worst criminals to buy these services, they must be punished,” she said. “They are not welcome in Mexico to come and abuse our girls and boys.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been working with other groups to combat trafficking and it targets criminal organizations as well as focuses on victims, said Jose Garcia, deputy special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.
“The needs of the victim has equal value as the apprehension and the traffickers, victims need to be safe and secure, both in terms of their state of mine and living situation,” he said.
Last year Garcia’s office hired a full-time victim witness coordinator to assist in training law enforcement officers about the crimes and to work directly with victims.
“This is something that is an unknown crime, it is unreported, it happens in front of all of us,” Garcia said.
A version of this column originally appeared in www.utsandiego.com.