Thursday, April 2, 2009

UPDATED: Slaves in Our Own Neighborhoods

The Faces Of Human Trafficking!

A Bi-national conference will tackle human trafficking in Albuquerque today.

Attorney General Gary King says even though slavery was abolished in the United States more than 140 years ago, it still exists today and it is happening in New Mexico.

Updated at 5:15 with Video from the Attorney General's office:

"Victims may be found working as domestics or in the service industries; maybe even being forced to be sex slaves," says Attorney General Gary King. "We've only had a law against human trafficking for less than a year in New Mexico so we are in the early stages of being able to identify and help victims."

The Attorney General is scheduled to speak today during a human trafficking conference at the Sheraton Uptown Hotel in Albuquerque.

The conference, entitled Modern Day Slavery in the Americas: A Regional Approach to a Global Epidemic, brings together law enforcement, policy makers, service providers and researchers from Mexico and the U.S.AG

King says hard statistics on how widespread the problem is in New Mexico are hard to come by due to a number of factors such as fear and language barriers, but the anecdotal evidence is strong and as more people learn about human trafficking, more cases will become apparent.

The Polaris Project tracks human trafficking crimes. Read more here.

A 2005 estimate suggested that annually between 17,500 and 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States.

Assistant Attorney General Maria Sanchez-Gagne who heads the AG's Border Violence Division will also address the conference. She says, "Many victims do not speak English so its hard for them to communicate with service providers. Most have been threatened by the traffickers and are afraid to talk to law enforcement."

King's office has worked hard to get the human trafficking law passed in New Mexico. "We are working just as hard to educate law enforcement, the judiciary and others about how to enforce it and get help for the victims, " King says.

In Arizona, Mexican drug cartels grossed an estimated $2 billion last year on smuggling illegal immigrants according to state officials.

Meanwhile, in California, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) says greed and opportunity has prompted the cartels to move into illegal immigrant smuggling. AG King believes that immigrant smuggling often leads to human trafficking, which is very different and requires its own separate handling in New Mexico.

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