¡Ya Basta! Stop Human Trafficking Today

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid

  • ¡Ya Basta! Blog Updates You On:

    Human trafficking news and South Texas resources.

    What is Human trafficking?
    Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

    Look Beneath the Surface Report Human Trafficking on the National Trafficking and Referral Line:
  • Stop Human Trafficking Today Project

    Stop Human Trafficking Today is a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. Our team educates the community on the issue of human trafficking by providing workshops and presentations to community members, as well as social service providers and law enforcement. We also provide direct outreach to various communities within our service area to help identify victims of modern day slavery.
  • Victims of Trafficking and Their Needs

    There are four general areas of victim needs: * Immediate assistance - Housing, food, medical, safety and security, language interpretation and legal services * Mental health assistance - Counseling * Income assistance - Cash, living assistance * Legal status - T visa, immigration, certification

    Victims of human trafficking are vulnerable human beings who have been subjected to severe physical and emotional coercion. Trafficking victims are usually in desperate need of assistance. They need to know that once they come in contact with social service providers and law enforcement, they are safe and will be protected.
  • Choice

    You cannot make a choice to be a slave.

    Not all victims of human trafficking are undocumented.

    Not all victims have crossed international borders.

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Posted by yabastablog on February 23, 2010

Just to give readers an update on what I’ve been doing, and that I will try to write a little bit more!

Now that our human trafficking grant has come to a close, I am now working more on the legal side of human trafficking, and a little less on the outreach. However, I am still working on outreach in San Antonio and the nearby vicinity. I will still be going to our 68 county service area, but unfortunately we do not have the funds to allow me to go as often as possible.

My latest events have been giving presentations and trainings with my colleagues at Catholic Charities to nearby women’s shelter staff. It has been quite successful so far: We have been in the Kerrville, Seguin, and Atascosa counties, with more to come!

I lead a round table event at Trinity University for their Not For Sale Campaign event. David Batstone spoke and they have some great projects going on to help get EVERYONE involved, and I mean everyone! I will blog more about that later.

TRLA will be at some local community fairs, including the Int’l Women’s Day March on March 6th. The focus of the March is to stand up for the rights of hotel workers who are fighting for fair wages and the right to form unions. TRLA will definitely have a booth there to help workers fight for their rights through the law.

I will also be working with a fellow colleague of mine from the San Antonio Coalition to do presentations and outreach to local churches.

I will also be working with a co-worker who is developing a Homeless Youth Project. Collaborating on this project will allow for us to reach US citizens who may be trafficking victims.

I recently am back from a trip to Mexico to follow-up on farmworkers whom I met on my last outreach to the Panhandle in the north. What an amazing time! We may have some cases, but workers are extremely afraid to speak out for fear of not getting re-hired. I’ll blog about this later.


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The use of crime victim laws!

Posted by yabastablog on February 23, 2010

Been away for quite some time. Learning new things that come with the job! Here is a link I thought we should all listen to. As the anti-human trafficking laws begin to get stronger and stronger, more and more victims will begin to use these laws to their advantage! TRLA can help victims seek restitution from a trafficker in civil courts, and it seems more and more attorneys will begin to use the civil laws as well! Just click on “Restitution For Victims Of Child Porn”


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Take a look!

Posted by yabastablog on October 26, 2009

The International Justice Mission will be releasing a new movie to spread the word about human trafficking. Please go to the following website to view the trailer. They have launched a great new site to make sure all those participating in the effort to end human trafficking are linked to their website to spread the word even further.


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Posted by yabastablog on October 21, 2009

Hello! Sorry I haven’t updated my activities in so long! I have been out doing outreach and attending conferences, and have finally found some time to do some updates.

North Texas outreach gave my colleague and I a chance to talk with local farm workers. The watermelon season was just ending in late September, and the pumpkin season was just beginning. We were able to acquire some great labor cases and even a possible human trafficking case. It seems many of the Guatemalan immigrants are treated terribly-not paid, or barely paid, horrible living conditions and twelve hour workdays.  Many of the Guatemalans had already left the area because it is the end of the growing season. I will keep a watch on these areas in the future to monitor their treatment when they come back for the next growing season.

Cactus, TX, of course was out of this world. A town in the middle of nowhere, made up of refugees from around the world! The minute we arrived and began speaking with a group of Mexican men in front of the local convenient store, we had at least one labor and wage claim case to take back and begin working on. Not to mention the other rumors we heard of the exploitation of Guatemalans in the nearby farms.

I was then in El Paso doing outreach and talking with a group of Philippinos from the International Justice Mission. They were visiting for a State Dept. exchange program. They talked about having the same type of problems that we have here in the US, but it seems most of the victims that they see are citizens of the Philippines, not foreign victims. El Paso’s anti-trafficking team work really well together, including law enforcement and social services. It was great to see that!

I was then in Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley where I gave a presentation for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. It was a presentation for the victims services coordinators who work for ICE. It was a rare experience for a social service agency to present on this to a federal agency such as ICE, who are experts in their field. It will be a difficult challenge to figure out a strategic way our attorneys and ICE agents can work together. Baby steps I suppose!

My next plans will be to keep working with the local San Antonio and Austin Coalitions against human trafficking, as well as planning trainings for staff of shelters in the counties surrounding the San Antonio area, and networking with law enforcment and local communities. I will post the next events soon, and update you on the latest events going on in Texas!

Keep reading, as I will try to keep posting more interesting articles and information from my travels and experiences working for TRLA to prevent human trafficking.

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Unaccompanied minors

Posted by yabastablog on September 22, 2009

The new law may have brought some confusion….

More Children Held in Detention Centers

La Opinión, Posted: Sep 22, 2009 //

LOS ANGELES — The detention of immigrant children for federal investigation has led to confusion among consulates and human rights groups claiming that hundreds of children could be detained for months before reuniting with their families, reports La Opinión.

A new law designed to combat labor and sex trafficking, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, H.R. 7311, requires that the case of every unaccompanied minor detained along the border be investigated before the child is repatriated. The law calls on investigators to research the reason for their entry into the country and the immigrant status of their parents.

But critics say its implementation could do more harm than good. In the past, when the Border Patrol detained a minor, they notified the consulate, which then located the minor’s family and reunited them. Now, the minor is delivered to the Department of Health and Human Services’ office and stays in a Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services (DUCS) shelter until his or her parents are located. Federico Bass Villarreal, spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino, said minors would no longer be handed over to consulates until their family was located. A process that used to take hours, he said, could now take months. According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 10 percent of the immigrants arrested crossing the border are minors.

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Clinton Global Initiative Award

Posted by yabastablog on September 22, 2009

Another heartening article to read to help us work on these issues on a daily basis. Good is happening!

Can Clinton Award-Winner Ruchira Gupta Change the World?

By Katherine Gustafson | Monday, September 21, 2009 4:58 PM ET

Ruchira Gupta found it impossible to walk away from the women.

She had spent 18 months hanging around the Bombay brothels where they lived, posting up at a dingy café nearby as she tried to catch on tape the horrors she had discovered in this dirty corner of the world’s economy. Ominous men had pulled knives on her. Some of her informants had disappeared. She had begun to call the café “Hotel California.”

That tune might actually be the best metaphor for the world Gupta was inexorably entering. The song famously concludes with the words “You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave.” And this, it turned out, was true for both for the subjects of the documentary she was making and for Gupta herself.

Many of the women she was watching day after day — sex slaves who had been sold into Bombay’s booming system of prostitution in their teens or younger — were now so traumatized, diseased, unskilled and drug-addicted that they would die on the sidewalks after clients stopped coming and their pimps threw them out. And Gupta herself, so shocked and outraged by the inhumanity of the exploitation and the intensity of the suffering she had uncovered, would never be the same again.

“I had never seen such deliberate exploitation of one human being by another at an individual level,” she told me when I asked what made her turn from a reporter for the BBC into a full-fledged anti-sex-trafficking activist. “I couldn’t walk away … I made eye contact with these women.”

And now, more than 20 years after finishing the documentary Selling of Innocents, which went on to win an Emmy Award, she is finally getting the world to take notice of the harrowing system it chronicles and what can be done to stop it.

This week Gupta will be awarded the 2009 Clinton Global Citizen Award, an honor that recognizes work of “visionary leadership in solving pressing global challenges.” She will receive the award on Sept. 24 at a special event as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, the annual conference of political, business, philanthropic and academic leaders who gather to discuss and commit to solutions to the world’s worst ills.

This recognition comes as a profound relief and an important vote of confidence for Gupta, who has spent long and lonely decades toiling with little support to help these women start new lives and to shed light on the injustice of their situation.

It all started when the women who had helped her make the film asked her to help them escape from prostitution. Gupta knew that enabling the strength she saw in them would be the key to their success. She told them “I can help you if you want to change your lives yourselves.”

They did, and Gupta’s life also changed forever. She founded a nonprofit organization, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, which means “self-help” in Hindi. With a messianic dedication and courageous spirit, she has grown the effort from that small beginning to a program of self-empowerment, group support and skills training involving 10,072 women and girls. Apne Aap has expanded its reach to four states — Delhi, West Bengal, Bihar and Maharashtra — where 67 self-help groups give these women a second chance.

While Gupta has made great progress without much support, the award finally gives her the backing she has missed all this time. Winning it, she said, “means I’m not alone. It means I finally see that I have a lot of support in my struggle. It means there are real leaders in the world and not just leaders who do things for political expediency. There are people who want to reach out to the poor and who want to stand side by side with an activist.”

Jennifer Buffett, whose NoVo Foundation nominated Gupta for the prize, said that meeting the tough standards of the Clinton Global Initiative “is a real stamp of approval.” She believes that recognizing Gupta’s efforts is the right choice.

“This is someone we really trust,” Buffett said. “She’s very smart, she’s very organized, she’s very passionate. She knows her stuff so well … With the Clinton award I think she’ll really be empowered. I can’t wait to see what happens.”

What will happen, Gupta thinks, is that her perspective will gain new legitimacy, which will make a tremendous difference in her ability to pursue her ambitious goals. And they are indeed ambitious: She aims to fully dismantle the prostitution system in India.

“This is what I want to tell all the global leaders that will be sitting at the award dinner that night,” she said. “If you invest in a girl or a woman, you can change a whole system. The best approach to solving this problem is to dismantle the system and invest in the girls.”

Making that case is a lot easier with powerful people backing you up. “People say [the system of prostitution] is inevitable,” she said. “Now with this award, people will have to realize that there are very influential leaders who think something can be done about it and are willing to support me.”

The system she is trying to disassemble is designed to chew up and spit out women. Traffickers lure girls between 9 and 12 years old from rural villages in India and Nepal with promises of legitimate work in the big city. For the first five years, the girls are kept in slavery, let out of their rooms only for servicing clients, or, as Gupta chose to put it, “repeated rape every night.”

Within those first years, said Gupta, a girl is “traumatized so much that she loses any link with her home, mentally and physically. She’s taught to become dependent on the brothel manager. She often has a child in the first two years. She has to repay the debt of her purchase price by working.” After that it is a fast and inexorable decline until, at 30 or 35, she is so “used up” that she no longer gets any customers and the pimp won’t keep her anymore. She is left to beg and die on the street. “That,” said Gupta, “is when she comes to organizations like ours.”

I asked this remarkable woman how she keeps going year after year in the face of such atrocity. She responded that the stories of the girls and women who make it out inspire her profoundly.

“A week ago, I was phoned by a woman who was married to a trafficker when she was 10 years old,” she told me. “She ran away three times to her own family, who always took her back. She joined Apne Aap in Bihar. She formed a group with other women and became the treasurer. They started meeting and holding open mics and becoming leaders in their community.

“She phoned and said ‘You know what? I went to the town chief and he said he would not give me cooking oil at the subsidized rate the government gives to poor people. He said it was because I was a prostitute. But I made him give me the cooking oil at the lower rate. You know, I was able to fight for myself, and I actually won!'”

Gupta paused, savoring again this small but — at least in one woman’s life — monumental victory. “That,” she said, “was magic.”

Stay tuned to Tonic all week for special, live coverage of the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative.

(Photos courtesy of Apne Aap and NoVo Foundation.)

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Immigration agents and human trafficking

Posted by yabastablog on September 22, 2009

Working in the field of human trafficking we sometimes get so down about our relationship with Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency, (ICE). It is rare to find an agent that will take the time to do the investigative work before putting our client into deportation proceedings.  A lot of times they assume our clients are lying about their situation, or they feel the client is not giving them enough information to help them make a case. Instead of doing what they can to help the victim, which is their job as a victim services agent, they decide it isn’t worth it and deport our clients.

This puts our attorneys under a ton of pressure to find another way to get help for their client. They have to go through another federal agency that is usually linked to ICE anyway.  Our attorneys have been able to obtain T Visas for our clients, but through the Department of Justice, which ended up being quite a bit longer process. It also took a lot more court dates, which added even more bureaucracy to the process.

So, when you read the following article, know that this ICE agent is the exception. She went above and beyond for a case that most agents and DA offices do not prioritize–a human trafficking case. The penalities for traffickers are still too light and most attorneys do not feel they can get the best results using the human trafficking laws.

Read this heartening article about a Philadelphia agent who put the human trafficking laws to work.

The U.S. agent who put away two sex tourists

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Cactus Investigations

Posted by yabastablog on September 21, 2009

Check out these older investigations about the town of Cactus, TX

Lots of labor abuses are occurring, but how can we find trafficking victims in such a huge meat packing factory?

Cactus, Texas from the Dallas Morning News

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More news in Brownsville

Posted by yabastablog on September 19, 2009

Couple pleads guilty to smuggling illegal immigrants for prostitution

A Brownsville man, who called himself Don Juan, and his girlfriend have pleaded guilty to smuggling undocumented immigrants into the United States to prostitute them.

Juan Luis Coronado, 37, aka Juan Hernandez, and Lee Ann Zieger, aka as Lee Ann Motilla, 40, entered the guilty pleas Wednesday, the same day their trial was scheduled to begin.

Coronado pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to import a minor for prostitution purposes.

Zieger, also of Brownsville, pleaded guilty to two counts of harboring aliens for prostitution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The two will be sentenced Dec. 8.

Coronado remained in federal custody without bond. Zieger remained out of jail on a $75,000 bond pending sentencing.

The April arrests of Coronado and Zieger were the result of a seven-month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation in which special agents monitored the couple.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Coronado admitted to asking a prostitute who was working for him to smuggle a 14-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico to work for him as a prostitute. He made the request in October.

Coronado also admitted to smuggling and managing two other undocumented immigrants who worked as prostitutes, federal authorities said.

The women who worked as prostitutes were housed at a hotel in Brownsville, where Zieger worked as a manager, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office.

Angela Dodge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the hotel is the Value Place hotel on Media Luna Road.

Authorities also said that Zieger allowed a room at the hotel to be used for prostitution purposes by giving Coronado a room key labeled “property manager,”

Dodge confirmed that Coronado and Zieger also took women to the South Padre Island to be prostituted at the annual SPI Bikefest held in October.

Zieger admitted to furnishing Coronado with the room, which she knew was being used to prostitute the undocumented immigrants and to picking up the prostitutes after they crossed the border from Mexico, federal authorities said.

Zieger and Coronado each face up to 10 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 each, followed by three years of supervised release.

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Posted by yabastablog on September 19, 2009

I’m out on the road doing outreach in the Texas Panhandle to farm worker communities. I will be going to Hobbs– NM, Plains, Hereford, Pampa, Dumas and Cactus!

I’ll update soon on the outcome!

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