Over the last week, a gruesome discovery was made in a Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. A trailer that had been parked in the Walmart parking lot for several days contained the bodies of dozens of people, some as young as 15 years old. Thus far, nine are dead, dozens more are injured, some with permanent brain damage.
News outlets have reported that when they found the victims in the trailer, they were hot to the touch, severely dehydrated, and noted that the temperature inside the trailer reached 150 degrees.
Human Trafficking is oftentimes a crime that flies under the radar, yet is happening in plain sight all around us. With the recent Walmart trailer discovery, as a crime victims’ attorney, it’s an important time to educate others about human trafficking while it’s in the light and people are talking about it.
Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Human trafficking doesn’t just impact people who are undocumented, but also impacts U.S. citizens, immigrants with visas and others. Much like drug trafficking, human trafficking is a larger operation that operates from the top down. It’s not just a man driving a trailer of people, there are higher ups in the criminal organization controlling what each person lower in line does.
Due in part to lack of government/law enforcement training, low community awareness, scarce resources for victims and social victim blaming, the risk that the trafficker will be caught, prosecuted and held accountable is relatively low. There’s a financial incentive for the traffickers to continue their illegal business because, unfortunately, there’s a demand for it.
While sex trafficking or sexual exploitation is the one more commonly in the public eye, forced labor accounts for the overwhelming majority of victims of trafficking. Forced labor trafficking can vary, but generally, it involves forcing someone to work to pay off a debt or for other reasons. The force doesn’t always have to be physical, but can be based upon verbal threats, fraud or other coercion.
According to the Department of State Website, there are several things that may indicate that someone is a human trafficking victim:
In the case of the San Antonio Walmart victims, the news outlets reported that when the
police arrived, several people who were being held captive in the trailer fled into the woods. At first glance, it may seem difficult to understand why people who are being “saved” would flee the police who are trying to save them.
The truth is, there is a lot of misinformation about survivors of human trafficking. There are times that a trafficking victim can be viewed as a criminal, instead of what they are—a victim. However, if law enforcement has received proper training, the victim shouldn’t be treated like a criminal, as trafficking is forced, not something engaged in willingly.
Focusing specifically on the fear of deportation, trafficking victims can sometimes qualify for a T-visa (non-immigrant visa) that will allow them to stay in the United States under certain conditions. The T-visa is temporary though and generally is contingent on the victim’s willingness to assist in the criminal prosecution of the traffickers.
After a survivor has the T-visa for three years, they can apply for a green card for permanent residency in the United States. It’s best to consult with an attorney to help fill out the T-visa paperwork, as the requirements and documentation can be confusing, and if not completed correctly, the visa will be denied.
If the situation is urgent, you should call 911 immediately and report it. The United States also has a National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which has a 24-hour, toll-free, multilingual, anti-trafficking hotline. You can call 1-888-373-7888 to report a tip; connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources.
The Center is equipped to handle calls from all regions of the United States from a wide range of callers, including, but not limited to: potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers.
There are also civil remedies for survivors of human trafficking. If you suspect you may be a victim of human trafficking, you should consult with an attorney to learn about your legal rights and options.
To find out more about human trafficking, here are some resources: