May 1, 2021

The nightly news yesterday reported that 90 people had been found crammed into a single two-story house in a Houston neighborhood in an apparent incident of human trafficking.  Assistant Chief Daryn Edwards of the Houston PD said Investigators had worked overnight to track down the location in southwest Houston after receiving a call about a potential kidnapping late Thursday.  The police were investigating the reported kidnapping Friday when they came upon the alleged smugglers’ house holding the 90 migrants.  None of the people were in particularly ill health, but they remained inside the two-story home Friday because some showed signs of COVID-19.  They will all be tested for the virus.

The US has created a lucrative trade for smugglers of both drugs and humans by declaring war on both. Unfortunately, those being smuggled are at risk for engagement with law enforcement.  Whether it is through prostitution, illicit drugs, or illegal immigration, these individuals are on the law enforcement’s radar.  In most cases, the aim of law enforcement is to protect the trafficked individual while targeting the traffickers.  While the prosecutors are not targeting them, these vulnerable people are still at significant risk for deportation if they are retained and undocumented.

The threat of deportation has substantial consequences for victims of trafficking.  It can be a deterrent to victims reporting their traffickers, making them even more reliant on their captors for perceived protection.  Many traffickers use the threat of deportation to control their victims, and the widespread enforcement of immigration policy reinforces that fear.  There is also the fear of retaliation, as the traffickers threaten to harm victims and their families to maintain control.  It is not yet clear who was behind the alleged smuggling operation in Houston, and no one had been arrested.  The youngest in the group was in his early 20’s and many appeared to be in their 30’s.  Only five were women.

Thoughts:  There are an estimated 57,000 people believed to be victims of human trafficking in the US. Woman account for about 80 percent of individuals involved in sex-trafficking, with some estimates stating that a quarter of these cases involve minor children.  What Houston illuminates is the growing number of immigrants who are being brought into the country and forced into unpaid labor.  Many of the trafficking victims are lured into the system with the promise of legitimate jobs, while others are kidnapped or entrapped in a myriad of ways, only to be enslaved and faced with violence and torture, including threats of death.  Their lives are then bought and sold as a commodity.  We need to be less concerned with punishing immigrants and more with protecting them.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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