McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Department of Homeland Security is urging everyone to wear blue on Saturday to mark National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
The White House has declared January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month, “a time dedicated to raising awareness, providing education, and taking action to combat this heinous crime,” according to a proclamation from the Trump administration.
“Human trafficking erodes personal dignity and destroys the moral fabric of society. It is an affront to humanity that tragically reaches all parts of the world, including communities across our Nation. Each day, in cities, suburbs, rural areas, and tribal lands, people of every age, gender, race, religion, and nationality are devastated by this grave offense. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to eradicate this horrific injustice,” the proclamation reads.
An estimated 24.9 million people worldwide are caught up in human trafficking, which the White House describes as “modern slavery.” Forced labor and commercial sex exploitation of adults and minors are some of the ways human “traffickers profit from their victims’ horrific suffering,” the proclamation states.
Immigrant advocates say much of the trafficking happens along the Southwest border, including places like Matamoros, Mexico, where thousands of asylum-seekers are forced to sometimes wait for several months while their immigration proceedings play out in U.S. court.
Migrants are vulnerable to rapes, kidnapping, extortion and beatings at the camp, mostly by drug cartel operatives who control the region, according to a complaint the ACLU filed with the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Nov. 14 ACLU letter stated there are “thousands of asylum seekers stuck in encampments in areas were migrants commonly face kidnappings, rape, and disappearances.
Helen Perry, a nurse practitioner with the nonprofit Global Resources Management who manages medical services at the refugee camp in Matamoros, said many women have reported being sexually assaulted in the camp. Others say they and their families have been kidnapped and held for ransom during their journeys north. Many of the women have said they believe the acts are committed by local drug cartel members, such as the Gulf Cartel, which is largely rumored to control the human trafficking of immigrants who cross the border into South Texas from northern Mexico.
“We do have concerns that there is human trafficking and gender-based violence and sexual exploitation taking place at the camp, both for women and children,” Perry told Border Report.
“We’ve seen multiple cases of rape,” Perry said last month as she gave Jill Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, a tour of the refugee camp. “Women and children particularly are most vulnerable in conflict situations and in areas affected by organized crime or terrorism.”
During National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Saturday, the American public is encouraged to wear blue and to share their photos on various social media platforms with the hashtag #WearBlueDay.
Signs of human trafficking can include the following, DHS says:
- Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
- Has a child stopped attending school?
- Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
- Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
- Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
- Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
- Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
- Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
- Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
- Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
- Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
- Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
- Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
More information on human trafficking can be found on the DHS website here.