STC holds human trafficking symposium

This article originally appeared in the Progress Times issue dated Friday, April 5, 2019.

Human trafficking is considered a modern form of slavery, and it is becoming the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

That’s according to officials who spoke during Monday’s The Nexus of Exploitation: The Global Economy, Human Trafficking and the Marginalized- a discussion on human trafficking that was held at South Texas College.

STC logoSpeakers at the two-day event included Sister Norma Pimentel, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez and Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr.

The event, according to the college’s website, was an effort to raise community awareness about the pervasiveness of the labor, sex trafficking and organ trafficking trades, provide a forum for networking and training opportunities for professionals and practitioners within related fields, and ultimately to take part in the larger international conversation on how to stop human trafficking.

“Human trafficking affects every country in the world. Right now, more than thirty million people around the world are enslaved. Lured through desperation, with promises of good jobs, and trapped under the threat of violence, many are forced to work without pay in factories, mines, fields, brick kilns, restaurants, construction, fishing industries, and private homes under deplorable conditions,” the site states. “Economic liberalization has paved the way and spurred an international market for the trade in human beings sustained by high profits and demand for cheap labor and commercial sex.”

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of State. These estimates include women, men and children. Victims are generally trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe and do not speak and understand English and are therefore isolated and unable to communicate with service providers, law enforcement and others who might be able to help them.

According to STC President Shirley Reed, 450 people registered to attend the event, which she said was holding an important dialogue the community needed to hear.

“Many of you may know a victim of human trafficking,” Reed told the crowd. “This is the most despicable way a human being can treat a fellow human being. It’s all for economic gain, whether it be through the sex or drug industry or economic oppression; I am so proud you are committed to making a difference and are actually here. As president of STC, unfortunately I have seen the consequences of human trafficking. I see the broken lives, the physical pain, the economic suffering, and we feel so helpless to do something about it. It’s going to take many more conferences, much more political activity, and support from Washington to help change this.”

Sister Norma Pimentel was a keynote speaker for the event. Pimentel oversees the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville and was instrumental in setting up the respite centers in McAllen and Brownsville to temporarily house undocumented immigrants after they have been released from custody.

Human trafficking, she argued, was the real crisis in the area.

“What we are experiencing today with all the people being apprehended is so unreal. There’s so many of them and when you see them all, you realize how easy targets these people are,” Pimentel said. “Families are hurting everywhere and it’s about time we wake up and do something, it is our responsibility. We are one human family, it is not a matter whether or not they have a right to be here or not. It’s a matter of fact that they’re human beings. Because they’re people, we have a responsibility to respond and make sure they’re safe. And we can put away the criminals destroying these lives.”

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez praised those in attendance and quoted Pope Francis during his speech who said human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that violates the God–given liberty of so many of our brothers and sisters and constitutes a true crime against humanity.

“For too long, traffickers have used force, fraud and coercion to victimize countless men, women and children,” Gonzalez said. “People worldwide have been affected by the fastest growing crime industry in the world and it must be stopped at once. Today’s discussion is critical, we stand together to say these crimes cannot continue and we can’t let those perpetrating it not be punished.”

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