Agents granted $356,783 grant from the Buffett-McCain Institute Initiative for unit
A new law enforcement unit aimed at preventing human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley has been launched by Texas border officials, according to a new announcement.
The special human trafficking unit will look for forced labor in the agricultural sector, according to Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, Jr.
Rodriguez added that Rio Grande Valley is more prone to human trafficking because of its close to the border with Mexico.
The unit was funded by a $356,783 grant from the Buffett-McCain Institute Initiative to Combat Modern Slavery.
“In forced labor, workers are often tied to the employers who hold them hostage to the job by taking away their immigration status,” said Rodriguez.
He noted that, in these cases, some employers pay migrant farm workers an amount less than promised or have them work long hours with limited access to food and water.
He claimed that some victims suffer from verbal or physical abuse.
The Hidalgo County DA said his parents were farm laborers.
Rodriguez said he was grateful they dodged this kind of predatory exploitation.
“The difference is that we were free to work and were paid what we were due,” stated Rodriguez.
“That work helped pay for my college education.”
In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline ranked Texas second to California in the number of reported human trafficking cases.
Donald Trump vowed to end human trafficking by proclaiming January to be a month dedicated to ending the horrific practice.
In one of his final actions of 2018, the president declared January to be “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month” during a lengthy proclamation issued on December 31st.
According to Breitbart: Texas reported 455 and California, 760, down from one year earlier when the hotline accounted for 792 cases in Texas and 1,305 in California. Florida placed third in 2018 with 367 cases, and 604, in 2017.
The hotline, run by Polaris, a nationwide anti-human trafficking project, identified reported that of the 455 cases reported in Texas last year, 59 were labor trafficking, 323 were sex trafficking, 45 were sex and labor trafficking, and 28 were unspecified trafficking.
Of the victims, 383 were female, 69 were male, and less than three were deemed gender minorities.
In July, Gonzalo Martinez de Vedea, a program manager with the Buffett-McCain Institute Initiative to Combat Modern Slavery estimated seven to 12 percent of agricultural workers in the Rio Grande Valley showed “red flags” of being trafficked.
The initiative aims to curb forced labor and labor exploitation and end traffickers’ privilege by supporting a justice system that can effectively, fairly, and efficiently handle these types of crimes.
Those involved with the pilot program also plan to bring into Texas the Fair Food Program, a partnership among farmers, farm workers, and retail food companies that guarantees human wages and working conditions for laborers.
The grant money will go to staff unit positions that maintain the unit’s mission in preventing labor trafficking.