By Zaira Cortes
October 4, 2015
(Translated by Magdelena Meza)
The numbers are alarming, according to activists.
New York— New York State is a ‘niche for human trafficking, ’ warned activists who want to shed a light on the growing problem and put an end to stereotypes for victims and survivors.
Griselda Vega, senior director of Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program (ATP), said that most clients that receive services from this agency were labor trafficking victims and entered the country on work visas.
“These are not illegal immigrants, as we commonly assume, ” said Vega. “Their employer promises them a high-paying job and gets them a work visa, but upon their arrival to the country, victims are threatened and forced to live under slave conditions.”
Vega said that another common situation among Safe Horizon clients is when a ‘coyote, ’ or trafficker, sells an immigrant to unscrupulous employers. The trafficker collects the victim’s salary as payment for getting them here, and in many cases, the illicit trade is carried out by a family member.
“We have seen how American recruiters travel to rural areas in Mexico for labor trafficking purposes, ” she said. “Once they enter the country, their victims sleep in miserable conditions with up to 20 other people. Their employers do not feed them and they are subjected to physical and sexual abuse.”
Since 2001, Safe Horizon’s Human Trafficking Unit has offered help to approximately 600 clients, of which nearly 45% entered the country on a work visa. Most of them come from the Phillipines, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Out of the total number of clients, nearly 79% are women and 21% are men.
“The visa process is legal, but upon setting foot on American soil, the job offers become trafficking, ” she said.
According to Vega, most labor trafficking cases involving clients of Safe Horizon are related to domestic work, hospital services and construction industries.
Numbers provided by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) are conclusive. Through September 30, the agency received 438 calls from the state of New York and took 141 human trafficking cases, of which 113 were for sexual trafficking, 19 for labor trafficking, and 7 for sexual and labor trafficking. A breakdown in numbers reveals that out of all cases, 124 of the victims were female and 12 were male.
According to NHTRC, the most common places in which sexual services related to trafficking are offered are in brothels disguised as legitimate businesses (20), brothels that operate out of a residence (14), hotels and motels (14), online services (9) and escort services (7).
“On both sides of the border (U.S.–Mexico), human trafficking gangs are not chased as fiercely as drug gangs, ” said Teresa Ulloa-Ziáurriz, regional director for the Regional Coalition against Women and Girl Trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATWLAC), in a telephone interview. “But district attorneys and police forces in New York have carried out an effective crackdown against pimps and traffickers, which prompted Mexico to act.”
CATWLAC is an organization that has consolidated networks in 15 countries in the Americas and is recognized as a category II advisory group on the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Ulloa-Ziáurriz, a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, emphasized that New York established precedence by imposing four life sentences to pimps from Tenancingo. This city, in the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, is the center of the trafficking rings that operate in the tri-state area.
“The traffickers that managed to escape were captured in Mexico and face sentences of up to 70 to 120 years in jail, even 300 years, the equivalent of life in prison in the United States, ” said Ulloa, who has worked with female trafficking victims for 45 years.
CATWLAC —based in Mexico City— works with Sanctuary for Families in New York. The binational collaboration facilitates the identification of trafficking paths and increases the chances of victim rescue. The latest to be released was a 14-year old girl from Puebla, who was a prostitute in Queens, according to Ulloa.
The activist said that pimp gangs are protected by drug cartels, particularly the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas, Nuevo Milenio and Caballeros Templarios. The cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa , Tamaulipas, and Tijuana, are a gateway on the Mexican side of the border to the United States.
Ulloa added that Queens and Brooklyn counties are the most frequent destinations for trafficking gangs in New York. Most victims come from the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala.
There is a prevailing idea that immigrant workers are usually the consumers of sexual services that stem out of trafficking, but Ulloa stressed that ‘Americans with money and power’ are the ones hiring the bodies of women and girls.
According to the office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, every year around one thousand minoJ45rs in the state of New York are victims of sexual trafficking. “Without demand there wouldn’t be sexual exploitation, ” said Ulloa.
The findings of the CATWLAC show that kidnappings, the false promise of employment and seduction (marriage or engagement) are the methods used to recruit trafficking victims. Pimp gangs usually announce their services through ‘card girls, ’ said Ulloa.
Safe Horizon offers services in Spanish (servicios en español). To ask for help, please call the 24/7 hotline at l (800) 621-4673.