Nonprofits, consulate to fight human trafficking on the border

Border Report

Immigrants particularly vulnerable to labor abuse, sexual exploitation

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The Mexican consulate and two El Paso nonprofits on Tuesday inked an agreement to identify victims of human, labor and sex trafficking, break the cycle of exploitation and get them the help they need.

“This agreement allows us to formalize a relationship that we’ve had for quite some time for education, outreach and making sure everyone understands their rights regardless of country of origin and knows what to do,” said Elke Cumming, executive director of Paso del Norte Center of Hope, an advocacy and support group for victims of trafficking. “With the consulate being a trusted space for Mexican nationals who may be particularly vulnerable, this is a really valuable relationship for us to have.”

Mexican consul general Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon (center) talks about an agreement with El Paso nonprofits to fight human trafficking.

The center may see around 70 victims of trafficking a year, whereas the Labor Justice Committee, the other signatory, has advocated for more than 100 individuals whose labor has been exploited in the past four years.

“We, too, see people who don’t know they’re being exploited. They come to us because they have not been paid or they have been paid less than the minimum. In some cases they even take away their (work authorization) papers,” said Lidia Cruz, a committee organizer.

Cumming said human trafficking is an oft misunderstood problem, particularly on the border.

“It’s not a stranger dressed in black you find on the street who is exploiting someone. It could be a partner, a boyfriend, someone who offers you a job or a safe place to stay,” she said. Also, “many people think that this crime of human trafficking is coming from south of the border. It is absolutely not. This is a problem we have here in the United States, with Texas being number two in the country and Houston also being number two in terms of cities.”

And perhaps the most difficult link to break in the chain of exploitation is getting the victim to realize he or she is being exploited.

“There isn’t any one typical case of human trafficking. In sex trafficking we may see someone alone, who may be suffering mental illness, who may be on the streets, so that makes them particularly vulnerable for someone who seems kind and is offering them a safe space. But it’s not necessarily a family member or a boyfriend. It’s just someone they put their trust in,” Cumming said. “That’s why it’s so difficult for many people to identify as victims, because very often they look at their victimizer as someone who is their friend, who cares for them, loves them and is looking out for them, and they’re very hesitant to report the crime.”

The agreement goes into effect immediately said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, the new consul general of Mexico in El Paso.

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