Human trafficking a concern for local law enforcement, victims

Human trafficking a concern for local law enforcement, victims groups

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Yuma, Arizona January 11, 2012 - U.S. Homeland Security says the problem of human trafficking in the United States continues to grow.

"The State Department estimates that 12 million people are subjected to trafficking, exploitive circumstances," says Juan Estrada, Assistant Special Agent with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix.  "We don't have any real numbers or baselines, but the United Nations report that human trafficking is a multi-million dollar a year business."

Even here in the Desert Southwest, the U.S. Border Patrol-Yuma Sector says agents have encountered such crimes in the past.

"Unfortunately, human trafficking and human smuggling does exist, even right here in our own community," says Agent Spencer Tippets with the U.S. Border Patrol-Yuma Sector.  "Many times, the same people that traffic drugs across the border are also the same individuals and organizations that smuggle aliens and that are involved in human trafficking."

U.S. Homeland Security says certain indicators can help the community spot victims of human trafficking and their perpetrators.

"One of the easiest indicators to identiy is if the individual is allowed to move about freely," says Estrada.  "Can they come and go as they please or are they seen only in instances where they're wearing the same clothing.  For example, an indentured servitude, when an owner of the residence leaves.  Are they always kept in a certain area, [do] they hide and aren't allowed to talk to individuals."

Victims often are groomed to say certain things.

"The individuals seems to be coached as to what they're saying, like they have a...statement readily available," says Estrada.  "They appear to be nervous and looking for direction to the individual who maybe the trafficker next to them as to see if they said it right or correct."

Those being trafficked can't move freely about the country.

"Do they have their identification documents?" says Estrada.  "If they're allowed to have it, they're allowed to move freely.  If they're kept from them, they're not allowed to move freely, obviously."

Knowing what to look is important.

"If you see something and it seems kind of different and not right, report it," says Estrada.  "You can be potentially providing information that can save a human life."

As far as border towns go, the U.S. Border Patrol-Yuma Sector wants the public to know its agents are committed to stem the flow of human trafficking in the Yuma area.

"Gratefully, we've done a great job in reducing the amount [of human trafficking] that goes on here in Yuma County," says Tippets.  "We're there to help them anyway that we can and also look to possibly prosecute those that are guilty of human trafficking."

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