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Keep Houston Press Free
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Human Trafficking in Houston Is More Likely Than You Think

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Photo By Camilo Smith
Sheriff Adrian Garcia talks about human trafficking in Houston.
It's the face of everyday Houston. The local nail salon worker, the guy toiling every afternoon on a construction site, the server at a local cantina, there's a possibility they could all be victims of human trafficking. At least that was part of the message being delivered at Rice University's immigration summit on human trafficking yesterday.

A panel representing clergy, the construction industry, law enforcement and travel came together to discuss the effects of human trafficking, corporate best practicecs and how best to keep local officials and business leaders in the know.

Before it was a common perception that sex work was the main reason for bringing people here as slaves. Sex work brings in more than $60 million a year to the state's biggest counties according to a study by the League of Women Voters.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia told the crowd of politicians, academics and students that while the sex industry was the obvious route for trafficking, the local labor force was the hardest to crack when it came to finding and helping victims. From the woman in the nail salon to the guy repairing your roof or working on your garden, they're all possible victims he said.

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Houston in something of a central location for human slaves. It made the Department of Justice's list of places with the most human trafficking. The city also ranked the highest in the state with the number of calls to a human trafficking hotline run by the Polaris Project with 547 tips. The city's task force that handles human trafficking is less than 10 years old, according to Garcia.

Most panelists agreed immigration reform (under a presidential administration with some of the highest deportations in over a decade) needed to take hold sooner than later to combat human trafficking, but they all agreed to keep it positive. Texas should steer clear of anything happening in places like Arizona. "Texas needs to hold the line," Scott Braddock of Construction Citizen, a worker's rights organization, said. Namely, continuing to offer things like in-state school tuition, Braddock said.

"Folks are being lured to come here with the promise of a better life," Garcia said. "Immigration reform is tied to the fight against human trafficking."

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