Entrants may be held in slavery
MEXICO CITY - Migrant traffickers are using the increasingly
large flow of undocumented migrants into the United States to selectively
enslave some of those workers, often as prostitutes or field hands, a U.S.
Justice Department anti-slavery prosecutor said Monday.
Traffickers' "safe houses" - homes where migrants are held
pending payment of smugglers' fees - not only are becoming more common in
U.S. border states, but also now sometimes involve more than a few days of
The prolonged captivity is contributing to more than 16,000
estimated cases of slavery in the United States each year, Justice
Department attorney Lou DeBaca told reporters in Mexico City, where he is
looking to increase cooperation with Mexican officials in prosecuting such
The 16,000 figure represents enslaved migrants from all over
the world, but "a very large percentage of those" are Mexicans, DeBaca said.
He explained how regular migrant smuggling "can ripen into a
"There's such a large movement of people north that it's easy
to move people within that stream to enslave them as well," he said. "You
can slip people into the migrant stream, fully intending to enslave them,
(though) they might not know it."
DeBaca described one case in 2003 in which police raided a
group of trailers in Texas used as safe houses by migrant traffickers. They
found four Mexican women who had been forced to serve there for months as
"The four were held as slaves to serve as concubines for the
alien smugglers, to cook, clean, and then at night be raped by the alien
smugglers," DeBaca said.
"Those women thought they were going north like any other
women, but alien smugglers kind of plucked them out and held them over the
long term," he said.
"If we had not been thinking about trafficking, we would have
simply said 'there's a safe house with a bunch of hostages,'" he said of the
DeBaca, the anti-slavery coordinator for the Justice
Department's human rights division, said cooperation with victims and
Mexican prosecutors is key.
He noted that between 100 and 150 slavery victims have
testified against migrant smugglers in the United States but are now afraid
to return to their native Mexico because of fear from the smugglers' rings,
which tend to have operations on both sides of the border.