The number of immigrant girls and women lured to North Carolina with the promise of a better life and then forced to work as prostitutes has risen in recent years, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says.
“The average citizen has no idea of the magnitude of the problem that exists here, in our backyard, and which has been growing with time. So we need people to help and report cases,” Delbert Richburg, ICE North Carolina Assistant Special Agent in Charge, told Efe.
North Carolina authorities have designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, hoping to raise awareness about a criminal enterprise that generates an estimated $32 billion annually worldwide. ICE works with state and local law enforcement to shut down groups involved in trafficking immigrants for purposes of exploitation, whether in the sex trade or as virtual forced labor, Richburg said.
“They sell big lies,” he says of the migrant smugglers. “The traffickers seek out teenagers in remote towns in Latin America with the promise of getting jobs in restaurants or caring for children. On arriving here, they keep them captive and isolated.”
The traffickers usually take the migrants’ identification and travel documents and threaten to harm them or their families if they try to escape. Besides finding and prosecuting human traffickers, says Eddie Agrait, ICE Charlotte Resident Agent in Charge, “our job is offering the victims a stable situation and immigration protection.”
“Last year alone, ICE at the national level worked on 650 cases and arrested 300 people for this crime,” Richburg said. “In North Carolina we have various investigations in progress.”
In 2007, federal authorities arrested Jesús Pérez Laguna, head of a ring that brought young women from Mexico to work as prostitutes in Charlotte and other Carolina cities. But victims of both sexual and labor exploitation are increasingly reluctant to report the crime out of fear that they will be deported as undocumented immigrations, according to Charity Magnuson, director of the group NC Stop Human Trafficking.
“They are people who don’t speak English, who are isolated from the rest of the community,” Magnuson said, stressing the need to let victims “know that they do have rights and can get out of that destructive cycle.”
Victims of human trafficking are eligible for special visas allowing them to remain in the United States.
[Fulano’s note: These women and girls, who only speak Spanish, are brought into the US to “service” other immigrants — legal and illegal — who are already here. The men come up to the US to work, leaving their families behind. In a normal immigration environment, those that immigrate here legally come with their families. This is a case of one problem creating yet another problem, and another good reason why immigration laws have to be enforced.]